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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

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Student blogs


Pearland, TX
Animal Science: Captive Raptor Management
Summer College 2013
Hello, my name's Alex and I come from Pearland, Texas (a major suburb of Houston) and I am 17 years old, an incoming senior of Glenda Dawson High School. I will be studying Animal Science: Captive Raptor Management, which will no doubt be an exciting and fulfilling experience considering my love of all animals, specifically and especially birds. I of course jumped at the chance to participate in such a unique and interesting program that provides interaction with raptors.

Extracurricular activities I participate in include swimming, water polo, JCL (Latin club), art club, and Interact (a community service organization). Though my favorite subjects in school are biology and chemistry, I’ve loved to read since before I can remember, leading to an obsession with reading and literature. I'm absolutely thrilled to be participating in the Summer College program and I can't wait to begin!


The first week of Summer College went by in a flash. When I first arrived I was daunted by the scale of the Cornell campus, having never spent more than a few days in a school of this size, and even then I'd been confined to the pool. At Cornell we have freedom to explore the entire school, which I have definitely taken advantage of. The walking trails by the lake, the flower gardens and stands of trees are all gorgeous and it's easy to lose yourself in nature just fifteen minutes from your dorm. The school itself is just as beautiful, with towering halls and spires and buildings that date back to the nineteenth century! Class is a 20-minute walk away but it's definitely worth the effort to experience the landscape and architecture of Cornell on the way to my building.

My class itself is definitely one of my favorite parts of the Summer College experience. Lecture is every day from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m., where we learn how to identify and care for different species of birds of prey, their natural history, and what it takes to care for them. I've already been assigned a paper and a group project on the evolution of raptors and disease and biomedicine respectively. Cornell's raptor program, I have learned, is one of the best in the country which definitely makes me even more interested in attending the school as a college student.

A few hours later we go to lab, which is my favorite part of the day, since we get to actually work with the birds themselves. We learned the basics of raptor equipment on day one and on day two we got to hold the birds ourselves, and I had a Spectacled Owl and a kestrel perched on my hand. Being able to see the birds and be that close to them is motivation enough for me to deal with the less glamorous tasks, such as preparing young chickens for them to eat. Though we've only had the chance to interact with the owl and kestrel, I've seen other beautiful raptors up close, such as a Harris's hawk, a Peregrine Falcon, and even a Golden Eagle.

After lab, we're driven back to the dorms and I study or just read. Sometimes I head over to the pool to swim for an hour, or run through the campus in the evening, especially since it's been so hot during the day this first week. Though I miss my sister and friends back in Texas, I'm really glad to be a part of the Summer College program, and I'm excited for the next two weeks of new experiences!

I can't believe I only have a few days left in the program—it seems like I've only just arrived! Time definitely flies when you're as busy as I have been, and the frantic energy of the campus is only increasing as we approach final exams.

This program has been an amazing and truly unique experience—where else can you get hands-on experience with birds of prey? The level of interaction I've been allowed to have with the birds is truly incredible, and I've forged some strong bonds. I've been taught to take the birds out of their aviary, how to feed them, tie them to their perches, and even trim their beaks and perform health checks. Though there are many birds I connected with over the course of the program, my favorite is a Harris's Hawk and retired falconry bird, Ike, whom I spent a great majority of my time with in the lab. He was a bit ornery at first, but we really warmed up to each other, and by the end of the three weeks, he was as comfortable around me as he was around the TAs! Well, almost.

Speaking of the TAs and professor, they have been a huge help to us, especially when a quiz or a test draws near. Because of their help I've been doing very well on the written tests and they even helped edit my paper. I'm a little nervous about the final exam, but I think I'm well prepared enough that I don't have to worry. Hopefully I can go to school here after high school, so I can reunite with my feathered friends, whom I will sorely miss when I leave Cornell.


The last few days of my Summer College experience went by so fast! Luckily the written final wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, and we got to take one last trip out to the raptor barns to take out the birds. That was definitely the hardest thing to leave behind. The only way for me to leave was to remind myself I could see them again in a few years if I get accepted to Cornell.

Though it was hard to leave, I was also relieved—I had survived my first real college class and done much better than I expected! The Summer College experience not only gave me a valuable and rare opportunity to work with these beautiful birds, but also helped me feel a little more confident about heading into senior year and later starting my life as a college student. Another effect of Summer College was the solidification of my decision to apply, if not definitely attend Cornell for my undergraduate program. Not only is there an unparalleled opportunity for interacting with and learning about birds of prey, but the campus and surrounding environment are beautiful and a perfect fit for a future veterinarian.

Summer College has definitely given me a valuable, inimitable experience. Hopefully it will boost my chances of getting accepted into the school of my choice, inspiring me to work even harder during my senior year to be able to see these birds for 4 years instead of 3 weeks.