Wildlife Biologist, Okanogan National Forest
On a warm morning in early September, we met up with Janet Millard on the dusty, jagged slopes of Chelan Ridge, Washington. With her aging pup Ginger at her heels, Millard took most of our group to the observatory at the Chelan Raptor Migration Project. The project, which Millard holds near and dear to her heart, was the brainchild of Kent Woodruff, a retired wildlife biologist. Woodruff saw the potential to collect valuable data on raptor migration at the ridge, where an open skyline allows for easy visibility of birds in flight. Currently Millard is the director, and oversees the management of the project.
A few of us, the biology majors, are afforded the opportunity to spend the day in the blind, where birds are caught, banded, and set free. Millard uses her radio from the observatory to let us know when a raptor is close by. “There’s a Coopers hawk headed your way!” she relays eagerly. After a couple false alarms, we manage to catch two juvenile Sharp-Shinned hawks, one male and one female. “When I saw all three of you running, I knew you caught something!” she smiles, having run half a mile from the observatory to the blind. “One of them [a researcher] didn’t believe me, but I knew.” We tuck the birds into two hole-punched soup cans, an unlikely but effective carrying method that helps keep them calm. Their scaly feet stick out from the bottoms like popsicle sticks as we gingerly carry them to the rest of our group with Millard. When we get there, a hushed chatter falls over everyone as they realize what we’re holding. Carefully, we’re allowed to hold the birds, one finger resting on their breastbone, another wrapped around their legs. Millard and Woodruff fan out the tail feathers of the female hawk, counting carefully for the twelve that should be there. Next they probe the crop, where food is stored, to see how recently the bird has eaten. Millard seems just as excited by the hawk as we are: though she encounters them every day, the light and passion in her eyes are as bright as any of ours.
By Abby Hill