Our Animals

The Balsam Mountain Trust provides care, love, and training to a collection of animals- most being native to Western North Carolina. These ambassador animals help bring life to our environmental education programs at schools, libraries, and other regional public facilities. It should be noted that these animals are not pets and have an essential role to play in educating our community about the species that call Western North Carolina home. These animals come to us, by and large, from wildlife rehabilitation facilities, where they are deemed unable to be returned back to the wild.

Every day, our staff and volunteers provide love and care to our ambassador animals. This includes providing enrichment, habitat cleanings, or even a walk around the “block” (for Petunia). We provide daily mental and physical stimulation for our animals. Training is a large part of the welfare of the animals. This allows us to create limited stressful situations when seeing the veterinarian or heading out on a program.


Click on the tabs below to learn more about each of our animals’ stories and some natural history!

ent Apollo ws 

Parabuteo unicinctus

Apollo was born into managed care by an organization that provides raptors for falconry and education. He hatched in May 2014 in Oregon and came to us soon after.

Did You Know?

  • Harris’ hawks’ intelligence and social nature make them popular birds for falconry.
  • In the wild, they often hunt in groups of 2-6 allowing them to take down larger prey. This is extremely unusual for hawks who almost always hunt solo.
  • This species is native to the southwestern United States where they are commonly seen perching and nesting on saguaro cacti. They range into Central and South America.

Buteo jamaicensis

Cheyenne was taken from the wild illegally after just leaving the nest. She had not yet learned to be a wild hawk. Her partial imprinting on humans makes her unable to be returned to the wild.  She hatched in 2011 in Illinois.

Did You Know?

  • One of the largest and most common raptors in North America, red-tailed hawks are often seen surveying roadsides from electric poles and dead trees.
  • Despite their large size and average 4 ft. wingspan, these hawks only weigh around 3 lbs. This doesn’t stop them from taking down prey up to 5 lbs.!
  • Red-tailed hawks typically mate for life and aggressively defend their nests and territory.

Tyto alba

Luna was born into managed care by an organization providing education raptors. She hatched on April 24, 2014, in New York.

Did You Know?

  • Barn owls have the best hearing of any animal ever tested. They are able to catch live mice in a pitch-black room!
  • They have been associated with the supernatural in folklore all over the world, probably due to their eerie scream-like call.
  • Barn owls are the most widely distributed owl in the Northern hemisphere (referred to as circumpolar) with slight variations in size and color. The ones in North America are the largest.

Megascops asio

Ashe and Rufous came to us in 2021 together.  Ashe (grey morph) is on the left, and Rufous (red morph) is on the right.

Did you know?

  • Eastern screech owls are cavity dwellers and are typically found in tree “snags” or former woodpecker holes.
  • These owls are small in size but mighty, preying on small rodents, as well as reptiles and insects.
  • They are nocturnal and are great at camouflage, so will not likely be seen but can be heard with their vocalizations which sound much like a small horse whinny!

Didelphis virginiana

Petunia came to us from Appalachian Wild after she was deemed non-releasable. She now helps educate classrooms across the region.

Did You Know?

  • Opossums, or ‘possums as they are known in the South, are the only North American marsupial—a mammal that carries its young in a pouch.
  • The word “opossum” comes from the Algonquin word wapathemwa meaning “white animal” or “white dog”.
  • Opossums make the perfect backyard neighbor. They do not contract rabies and keep down Lyme disease by eating ticks—one of their favorite snacks!

Anaxyrus americanus

Toad was raised as a tadpole here at the Trust and was hatched in 2016.

Did you know?

  • The American Toad is the largest toad species in North Carolina
  • Toads prefer uplands to the watery habitats of frogs, and they hop rather than leap like frogs.
  • State archeologists have unearthed toad bones from Native American burial sites dating as far back as
    the 1600s! 

*NCWRC species profile

Pantherophis guttatus 

Orville is a red rat snake (or corn snake) and came to us in 2016. He was a former pet and turned in to a local rehabber before he found his forever home here at the Trust.

Did you know?

  • Corn snakes most likely get their name from the underside of their belly which resembles a checkered pattern of corn or maize kernels in Native American corn.
  • Rat snakes are constrictors, which means they coil around prey until it is defeated and then will ingest it.
  • They are diurnal, which means like humans, these snakes are active during the day and sleep at night.

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Wilbur is our resident Eastern Black Rat Snake and came to the Trust in 2021. He was taken from the wild as a hatchling in 2019 and surrendered to a local rehabbed prior to coming to us. 

Did you know?

  • E. Black Rat Snakes can easily reach up to 7 ft long!
  • They are excellent swimmers and climbers.
  • Constrict their prey (typically rodents) before ingesting.

Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Elsie is a Sinoloan Milksnake and is estimated to be at least 9 years old. She is native to Mexico but is in the same family as our native Scarlet Kingsnakes.


Did you know?

  • The term ‘kingsnake’ refers to any snake in the genus Lampropeltis. This includes milk snakes, which belong to the species Lampropeltis triangulum.
  • There are 25 different subspecies of milk snakes known throughout their geographic range, all with slight color variations. The Sinaloan milk snake has red bands separated by smaller black and yellow bands.
  •  Like other king snakes, they have some immunity to the venom of venomous snakes they consume.

*Smithsonian’s national zoo & conservation biology institute


eastern box turtles

Terrapene carolina

Hermione was found 

Merlin was found on a construction site, a dangerous place for a slow-moving turtle. Despite several relocation attempts, he kept returning to his “home” so a wildlife rehabilitator determined he would be safer in captivity. We estimate he hatched in the 1970s.

Did You Know?

  • Their name comes from the “hinge” on their bottom shell that allows them to seal themselves in to thwart predators.
  • Males have orange to red eyes and females have brown to golden eyes.
  • Box turtles are completely terrestrial and cannot swim. They forage for greens, fruit, and insects on the forest floor.
  • State reptile of North Carolina

Didelphis virginiana

Tilia, a Virginia opossum came to us in late 2022 from Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. She was struck by a car which resulted in her not being able to take care of herself in the wild. But not before she gave birth to 7 healthy babies who were all released thanks to App Wild.

Did you know?

  • Opossums will “play dead” by an involuntary response to stress or fear.
  • The Virginia opossum has more teeth than any other North American Mammal, 50 in total!
  • They have immunity to snake venom in their native range, with one exception, the coral snake.

Kinosternon subrubrum

Elohi (“earth” in Cherokee) came to us from Appalachian Wildlife Refuge in late 2022. She was relocated from another Nature Center that was impacted by a natural disaster. Prior to this, she was a surrender. She will now live out her days at the Trust with a belly full of mealworms and ample space.

Did you know?

  • Eastern mud turtles are semi-aquatic. They are not strong swimmers and usually crawl along the bottom. 
  • Hatchling mud turtles are often mistaken for snapping turtles. An easy way to tell the two apart is a mud turtle has a larger, hinged plastron and snapping turtle hatchlings have a very small plastron and a long tail.
  • Eastern mud turtles prefer shallow and sluggish bodies of water. They are able to tolerate brackish water and are sometimes encountered in salt marshes.

*info from Eastern Mud Turtle (herpsofnc.org)

Sternotherus odoratus

Daksi (“turtle” in Cherokee) is our musk turtle. He came to us in late 2022 also from App Wild with Elohi, and the Trust will now be his forever home.

Did you know?

Cambarus bartoni

Invertebrates are a vital part of the ecosystem; therefore we raise a few different types for nourishment to our other animal residents and also use these critical critters to educate. Pictured, we have Red Wigglers () which we grow in a vermicompost system here. Second, is our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches () which make wonderful ambassadors. Lastly, we grow mealworms (spp.) for feeders and education!