For more than 20 years, you have been a field biologist at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, in Kempton, Pennsylvania, tracking and helping to protect raptors. What’s most rewarding about your vocation?
Raptors concentrate in large numbers in certain areas, allowing people to go see them when normally they wouldn’t be able to because raptors are fairly rare. I supervise the raptor migration counts, analyze the data for trends, and try to understand the ecology of raptor migration.
Which raptor experience stands out the most for you?
During a daylong count in Veracruz, Mexico, early in October, four of us counted 600,000 hawks. I still remember looking up and marveling as these hawks—broad-winged, Swainson’s, turkey vultures—circled right over my head. It was the experience of a lifetime.
What types of raptors pass through Hawk Mountain?
There are 16 kinds of raptors or hawks that migrate in the fall and spring, but only a few nest here. In the summertime, we have broad-winged hawks, which are nesting hawks that like large forests. And that’s what Hawk Mountain provides.
You have been recognized by professional organizations. You obviously are good at your job.
I enjoy the scientific part of it as well as the experience of it. I also appreciate the birds. When a kid comes in and wants to see a bald eagle, I can relate to what he’s feeling when he sees it.
You spend a few days each week on a mountain counting birds of prey. Could you see yourself in a 9- to-5 desk job?
I go stir-crazy in the winter. That’s when I’m supposed to be at my desk, five days a week. It’s important for someone in my kind of job to be out in the field as much as possible. Sitting behind a desk, you can’t understand your subject completely.
— Molly Petrilla