In spring 2012, my mom mentioned to me that Cornell University had mounted a camera on a light pole high above their athletic fields, where a pair of red-tailed hawks was nesting. The camera meant that anyone around the globe could watch as these wild birds (nicknamed “Big Red” and “Ezra”) built a nest, laid their eggs, and raised their chicks. She also pointed me to a video showing the installation of the cameras, installed 80 feet above ground with a bucket lift while the hawks looked on suspiciously. This was impressive to me, since I get dizzy on anything higher than my heels – and while I didn’t know much about red-tailed hawks at the time, I was pretty sure being attacked by one was not a minor event.
I tuned in to watch the hawks, and as soon as I saw the first tiny white fluffball having its first meal, delicately fed from its mother’s razor-sharp beak in tiny, tiny bites, I was utterly and completely hooked.
I’d been a birdwatcher for a number of years, and had noticed with delight as red-tailed hawk populations grew, slowly recovering from a decades-long decline thanks to large-scale conservation efforts. But I didn’t know much else about them. That all changed with Cornell’s hawk cam – watching these wild creatures, day in and day out, through their trials and tribulations and near fledges and finally fledges of all three juvenile hawks. Cornell also provides a chat, moderated by experts – many of whom are falconers in their own right, and one of whom volunteers for Cincinnati’s local raptor rescue organization, RAPTOR, Inc. (the same one for which I now volunteer!). They provided tremendous information and perspective on what we were watching – and the more I watched, the more hooked I was.
Photo Credit: Constance Menefee
I started learning more about raptors on my own, outside of nesting season, and my admiration continued to grow. I had wanted to volunteer for something for a long time – it was much harder when I was a single mom and my son was small, but now that he’s older (and my husband takes on full-scale parenting as well), it was more feasible for me. I started by volunteering as a citizen scientist for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, counting birds and reporting weather conditions as part of Project Feederwatch. Then, in March, I went to a live event – RAPTOR, Inc.’s annual “Owl Prowl,” where live education birds were featured in a lecture prior to the hike around Spring Grove Cemetery looking for barred owls. And they noted they were looking for volunteers. And there was my chance.
I thought I might be cleaning out cages (gross!) or thawing mice to feed to the rehabilitating birds (not especially appealing), but it turned out what they most needed was something I already love to do: write. And so I started doing just that, developing articles for newsletters, communications to the group’s contact base, e-mails, social media posts, and other content to share the organization’s work, raise funds, and generally help them help the raptors we care so passionately about.
I volunteer because it’s a way for me to do good in the world, helping a cause I care passionately about and using the talents I’ve been blessed with to make a difference. I do it because it feels right, and because every little bit helps – everything we do, every day, matters. It’s important to remember how much.