Back

Discover CALS

See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

|
By Caroline Stamm '24
Share
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Animal Science
  • Animals
The Cornell Raptor Program was established in 1993 to provide Cornell undergraduate students and other community members an opportunity to become involved directly with efforts to promote conservation of birds of prey. Heather Huson ’97, associate professor of animal science, serves as the faculty adviser and oversees management of the program.

What motivated you to lead the Cornell Raptor Program?

Above all, this was a way for me to give back to the program that gave so much to me! I was a Cornell undergraduate in animal science many years ago. I was pre-vet, with an interest in wildlife, and the Cornell Raptor Program offered an opportunity for hands-on experience with birds of prey. At the time, the director of the program was John Parks, professor at Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science, and he focused on propagation and education. I came back to Cornell as a faculty member when Parks was retiring, took on leadership of the program, and shifted the main focus to education and outreach.

Why was this shift in focus important for the Cornell Raptor Program?

Education – for students and the public – is at the core of how we make an impact. We conduct research, rehabilitate injured birds, and breed and release birds. But when we teach others about the birds, we pass on knowledge about and concern for the species, environmental issues and conservation for generations to come.

How does the program educate the Cornell community and beyond?

The program is split into two sections: undergraduate education and public outreach. Most students join the program with no prior background in wildlife. What really sets this program apart is the peer mentorship among older, more experienced students and new students, eager to learn about raptors. In the community we hold 40-60 programs a year, frequently traveling to schools, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other Ithaca venues. We also have the 4-H Raptor Program, where undergraduate students work with groups of 4-H students, ages 8 to 18.

What kinds of programming do you run for the 4-H Raptor Program?

Our students build a new lecture for the 4-H students every month, and we try to develop fun activities for them. A popular activity has been pumpkin carving at Halloween. Students then give the carved pumpkins to the birds for enrichment. It’s always entertaining to see what the birds choose to do with their pumpkins. Some raptors pick at and play with the pumpkins while others want nothing to do with them.

What does the future of the Cornell Raptor Program look like?

I would love to have a new facility, where the public can come to us for educational activities. A classroom would open up opportunities to host more classes for undergraduate students and the broader community. It would also be better for the birds, as moving to different venues can be stressful.

What do you love most about the Cornell Raptor Program?

I love working with undergraduate students! I enjoy the camaraderie and like seeing the students accomplish tasks such as holding or hand-feeding a bird. It’s great working with students from a diverse range of majors across animal science, economics, government, engineering and more. Obviously, our birds are amazing. I have a soft spot for the owls. I love Gertrude, our great-horned owl; our Eastern screech owls Odin, Brunhilda and Wesley; and Gracie, our bald eagle. Gracie likes to holler at anyone who passes her and is hilarious!

Student Spotlights

Rhasaan Bovell

"Conservation is a key focus of my research, and through the Cornell Raptor Program, I’ve learned firsthand about the life history, behavior and management of several raptor species. By sharing this knowledge at community workshops, I’m also able to engage the public with native wildlife and inspire greater support for raptor conservation."

Bovell is a first-year graduate student in the biomedical and biological sciences Ph.D. program at the College of Veterinary Medicine

Christel-Remy Kuck ’20

“My time at the Cornell Raptor Program helped me bridge two of my passions: animals and education. During my undergrad career, working with non-releasable birds of prey instilled in me a love for avian medicine. I currently work at Cornell’s Wildlife Hospital and am pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. I was also able to share that passion for raptors by starting the Cornell 4H Raptor Program in my senior year. And even now, I still appreciate the close friends I made and continue to spend time with post-graduation!”

Kuck ’20 is a Cornell alumna, currently working and studying at the College of Veterinary Medicine

Ben Dever-Mendenhall ’24

“I’ve been involved with the Cornell Raptor Program since October 2020. I’ve learned how to handle and care for birds of prey, and I’ve gained an appreciation of the importance of raptor conservation. I am now much more aware of the impact of human behaviors on these birds. For example, throwing apple cores (or other food) onto the highway can attract raptors and lead to their being struck by cars.”

Dever-Mendenhall ’24 is a Cornell undergraduate student

Rhasaan Bovell
Christel-Remy Kuck ’20
Ben Dever-Mendenhall '24

Caroline Stamm is a student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.

Keep Exploring

A woman holding a box of preserved insects

Field Note

A new ant species recently discovered in New Mexico has been named Strumigenys moreauviae, after CALS faculty member Corrie Moreau, the Martha N. and John C. Moser Professor Arthropod Biosystematics and Biodiversity.
  • Department of Entomology
  • Entomology
A small, brown house mouse among straw

News

New research supports a Cornell scientist’s 2015 hypothesis that Vikings visited the Azores centuries before it was discovered by Portuguese explorers.
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Animals
  • Biology