Raptor Center hooks teens’ interest

Digging through a tuft of fur and small bones, Brekken Armstrong discovered a mouse skull while dissecting an owl pellet Tuesday night.

“I liked finally finding a skull!” he said. “I wasn’t able to find one the first time I dissected.”

Armstrong, a freshman at Avalon High School in St. Paul, is a member of the Raptor Center’s Youth RaptorCorps program.

The program started in January and provides teenagers an opportunity to explore their interests in birds of prey.

Eight to 10 teenagers from around the Twin Cities meet once a month to participate in a service-learning activity.

Before the program started there were limited opportunities for youths to volunteer at the center because volunteers had to be 18 years old, said program co-leader Jill Determan.

“Kids wanted to get involved, but couldn’t,” she said.

The Raptor Center introduced the Youth RaptorCorps program through a partnership with AmeriCorps, a national community service network.

Each meeting includes both learning and service activities, which ultimately support the Raptor Center’s mission of local raptor research and service, Determan said.

Determan and her fellow AmeriCorps partner, Micah Scholer, educate RaptorCorps members on topics such as falconry and migration.

“We learn about raptor species, how to identify them, what they eat, where they live and how to help them,” Determan said.

The two-hour meetings also include live demonstrations. During Tuesday’s meeting participants dissected owl pellets after examining two owl species in the center and learning about their habitats and skills.

Determan told the students that raptors regularly cough up pellets containing the indigestible bones and fur of their prey.

The group also is committed to helping the center with small activities each month. In January the group made tail sheaths to protect the tail-feathers of injured birds that arrive at the Raptor Center.

“During one of our meetings, a University student helped the kids make thank-you cards for Raptor Center donors,” Determan said.

Club members will graduate from the program at their June meeting and will be presented a certificate of completion.

Fisheries and wildlife sophomore and Raptor Center volunteer Emma Lastine said she would have liked to participate in a similar program in high school.

“Kids are immersed in things they would never be able to at school,” she said.

Determan said that after spring semester, Youth RaptorCorps meetings will resume in the fall and continue through May 2007, at which point AmeriCorps grant funding will expire.

St. Paul Central High School junior and group participant Eloise Galligan said her interest in environmental studies led her to the program.

“The condition of the birds here reflects the state of our environment,” she said.

– Freelance Editor Emily Kaiser welcomes comments at [email protected].