Understanding what raptors can tell us

Working with birds of prey enables us to keep a pulse on the natural world. Being especially vulnerable to changes in their habitat, raptors are important indicators of the ecological health or decline of an area. For instance, toxic chemicals in the environment pose a particularly serious threat to predator species, such as eagles, hawks, vultures, and owls. Being at the top of the food chain, these species often feed on rodents and carrion poisoned by pesticides and are themselves killed as toxic substances accumulate in their systems. Likewise, the increasing number of roads and the expanding network of electrical transmission lines result in nest disturbances, serious injuries, and numerous deaths every year.

Finding answers through scientific study

Otherwise healthy, non-releasable raptors that are physically and/or psychologically impaired offer a valuable learning resource for faculty and students. These resident raptors receive continuous care and shelter while serving as environmental ambassadors in educational programs, and as foster parents.

Numerous manuscripts, dissertations, and scientific presentations have been completed based on the studies at the California Raptor Center. The ultimate value of such research is that it leads the way for developing conservation biology knowledge for policies protecting these species—especially by improving respect and care of Earth's nonrenewable resources. Much scientific headway has been made in understanding the causes and treatments of diseases, the effects of chemicals in the environment on raptor health and reproduction, the successful use of surrogate parents for fostering orphaned birds, and other areas of raptor biology, physiology, and ecology.

Current research interests include studies on surveillance of infectious diseases, best practices for medical care, collection of biological data, and neonatal care and management. Research involves faculty from the UC Davis Schools of Veterinary Medicine and Medicine, as well as the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.