California Raptor Center

History

Photo: Baby Swainson's HawkIn 1972, an orphaned Swainson's hawk was the first bird to arrive at the new U.C. Davis Raptor Center, started by Dr. Frank Ogasawara, Alida Morzenti (Dr. Ogasawara's graduate student at the time), and Mark Fenn and Ole Torgerson (two undergraduate students and falconers) of the Avian Sciences Department. They were approached by local falconers interested in developing a captive breeding program for Peregrine Falcons, whose population was declining at the time due to pesticide problems. The idea of a center for raptor research and education was, at that time, rather novel, but with help from the Department of Fish and Game, the California Raptor Center was established through the Department of Avian Sciences. Dr. Murray Fowler incorporated the treatment of injured birds into the training of students enrolled in the Zoological Medicine program in the School of Veterinary Medicine, thus providing the needed medical care.

ARS buildingAs the size of the non-releasable population grew, researchers from different areas of the campus utilized this resource to expand the pool of information on raptors. Research included behavioral and physiological projects; studies of mosquito-transmitted diseases, raptor blood composition, and vision; and rodent control, to name a few. A class in raptor biology and another in raptor health and treatment were created. Both students and community volunteers became involved in handling, caring for and rehabilitating the raptors. In those days, each volunteer was assigned a bird and was required to take care of it seven days a week! Tamed birds were taken to scores of schools, community events, county and state fairs, and even other budding wildlife rehabilitation facilities, to teach the importance and beauty of birds of prey.

Photo: ARS BuildingARS buildingThe California Raptor Center rapidly outgrew its original facility, a small house near the University airport, and was moved to its present location, a large, unused plot which was originally a sewer plant (dubbed OSP -- "Old Sewer Plant"), in 1974. Donations of time and money from students and the community were instrumental in remodeling the facility to make it suitable for housing the birds. The new location had facilities to house more than 160 birds -- and it often did! Activity at the California Raptor Center increased. More releasable birds were returned to the wild while those that were non-releasable continued to become education and research birds.

In 1980, the Raptor Center was turned over to the School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Murray Fowler was the director and Terry Schulz became the supervisor. Under their leadership the Raptor Center was able to expand upon its tradition of education and research. Veterinary students were provided the opportunity to gain experience with handling and treating injured and sick raptors and the number of active volunteers grew. More people than ever came to the center to work with birds of prey. Research also continued. Several graduate students studied the Raptor Center's birds as part of their doctorate research and Terry, an avid field researcher, completed and published dozens of studies on birds of prey. With the help of Nancy Horowitz, new physical therapy techniques were developed and although money was in short supply several new cages were built.

In 1991, Dr. Murray Fowler and Terry Schulz both retired. Dr. Dale Brooks, director of Animal Resources Service, became the new director for the California Raptor Center. Alida Morzenti returned to again offer classes in raptor management through the Avian Sciences Department. Under its new Director, a much needed rehabilitation of the physical facility became a priority. The Museum opened its doors, a separate clinic and quarantine area was built, a new office and classroom facility were established, and many of the old (and badly aging) cages were torn down and replaced with new display cages to house permanent residents in a manner which was attractive for both the birds and the public. Public education in the form of talks, tours, and outreach programs reached new heights under the direction of dedicated community volunteers and students.

Photo: ARS BuildingMore than 200 adult and baby birds arrive at the California Raptor Center each year, and well over half of these are returned into the wild. As an educational institution, the California Raptor Center has taught hundreds of students and community volunteers about raptor biology and rehabilitation. Equally important are the thousands of citizens who are touched by the continuous community events, including hundreds of school children who visit the California Raptor Center annually. Indeed, the U.C. Davis Raptor Center is an exceptional, unique institution for academic and social interests.