The Raptor Center

I was expecting people when I arrived at the raptor center on Wednesday. But there was no one there. I let myself in, and discovered a few hawks and a turkey buzzard hanging out in cages in the infirmary, delicious dead mice waiting for a mid morning snack nearby. I wandered over to the door where a chart on the different types of raptors was kept.

A cartoon caught my eye. It was the silhouette of a turkey buzzard, head and beak, and the picture was printed twelve times. The sequence of text?

Hi! I’m a turkey buzzard!

To keep cool, I defecate all over my lower legs.

When I’m upset, I projectile vomit.

Aren’t I special?

That’s when I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. People eventually arrived, and I was treated to a two-hour raptor lecture.


Those of you who have known me for any length of time know I like to research, well, everything. It might explain the PhD thing. It is also awesome when I get to do it in conjunction with writing. Since I’ve gotten serious, I’ve looked into the world of pro-wrestling, Hammer horror, large and small animal veterinary, Norway, Decorah, and…this time around…raptors.

Ra, demon familiar of Lucy Klarion, is a falcon. It’s just Egyptian, and since I know NOTHING about birds of prey, I thought I’d better get some education. I thought at first that I would need to know more about falconry, but that’s not exactly it. What I needed to know more about was raptor conservation.

Happily, Kirkwood is connected to the University of Iowa, and we have a raptor center here. This is also connected to the University of Iowa Raptor Project. The Project focuses on rescuing wounded birds, with the goal, if possible, of returning them to the wild. If the birds are too seriously injured, they are humanely euthanized. If the birds have an injury that they can’t survive in the wild with, they become ambassadors in the educational programs around the state.

When I visited the Raptor Center, I met four of these ambassadors. Two of them were with the center because they were human imprint birds–raised by people and therefore no longer wild, a surefire way to not make it in the wilderness. Two of the birds were wing amputees. I saw a turkey buzzard, a Grasshopper Hawk, and two peregrines.

There was a lecture about migratory patterns, ecology, DDT and its effect on birds of prey, school education programs, hoods and jesses, diet, so many things that just gave me a general idea about the birds. The two hour lecture was concluded by a trip to the birds we have on display outside, owls, hawks and buzzards that we keep because of their inability to return to the wild, who were wild and well enough to be outside.

The turkey buzzard cartoon? Got to see that live outside.

One of thing most important things that I learned at this lecture session was this: as authors, we tend to anthropomorphize, and my plan was to sort of have a pet relationship with Ra and Lucy. Jodean, the director of the center, specifically asked me not to go there. I need to write a bird like a bird, and give an honest portrayal of what one would be like. That requires a lot of thought. One never said the job of an author is easy.

And yes, I did ask Jodean about Harry Potter. She suggested that Rowling didn’t do conservationists any favors regarding owls.

So, if YOU need any information on raptors, I know at least where to get you started. I’m sure your own state has a project very similar, and there is nothing quite as wonderful as seeing these beautiful birds close up.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “The Raptor Center”

  1. I know very little about raptors, but I love them. We’ve got quite a few around Cambridge. (Not coincidentally, we also have quite a few rabbits. And quite a few rats.)

    The wing amputations reminded me of a story my father tells about watching a hawk with a stunted wing hunt in one of the canyons near Green River, Wyoming. It couldn’t really fly, but it could glide, so it would sit on a rock overlooking the canyon, and when it spotted something, it would glide down and nab it. After it ate, it would walk back up to its rock and start over again. Not terribly efficient, but he said it looked pretty healthy, so it must have been working okay.

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