ITHACA, NY – The owls of the Cornell Raptor Program have become a popular feature of Potter-themed events around Ithaca.

The program was established to give students and the local community the opportunity to engage with birds of prey. Roughly 40 birds, including falcons, eagles, hawks and owls, are involved in the program currently.

While many people are accustomed to dealing with small birds that can be kept as pets, like a parrot, interacting with a raptor up close is a different experience. That’s a big part of what makes the raptor program special and exciting for people, says Professor Heather Huson, who heads up the program.

Raptors in general have different personalities from other types of birds, and different species of raptors have are unique as well. The up-close interactions that the program allows for lets people experience an even deeper level, seeing each bird’s unique personality, Huson says.

The program helps to rehabilitate injured birds and also engages in breeding programs for some species. The program releases rehabilitated or bred birds when possible, but many of the raptors can’t be returned to the wild and become “education birds” for use in teaching students and the public.

These birds have essentially “self-identified” by being more tolerant of being handled or being around lots of people, and they become permanent members of the program.

Students in the program learn how to care for and safely handle the animals, including taking them to events like Wizarding Weekend or Cornell’s Night at Hogwarts.

While the raptor program does offer more formal educational presentations on the raptors, events such as the Harry Potter related events tend to be more informal. These allow people to come to get closer to the birds and ask questions to the handlers.

Huson says that they are careful about choosing which raptors they bring out in public, and take care to avoid any situations that might spook the animals, like people approaching from behind.

Despite the huge crowds often drawn by these events, the raptors of the program handle the excitement well and add an extra dash of magic to the proceedings.

(Photo by Joe Wilensky from Cornell University’s Facebook page)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.