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!
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