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Student raptor research takes flight

Sara Pourzamani and other undergraduate students spent this summer engaged in raptor research projects designed to contribute new information to raptor

Pourzamani, a senior biology major, and Skyler Wysocki, a student from Paul Smith’s College in New York, analyzed photographs of burrowing owl habitats to see what conditions affect predator species frequenting the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey habitat area in Mountain Home.

“It makes your work a lot more meaningful when you can say, ‘My work might influence something in the future,’” Pourzamani said. “I feel very fortunate and lucky I got to have this experience.”

Pourzamani hopes the research will contribute to future conservation efforts for burrowing owls, which are currently on the “watch list,” which follows the rise or decline of the species to prevent threatened or endangered status.

Conservation efforts could include influencing road and power line plans in the area with burrowing owl nests.

This hands-on experience for Pourzamani helped set her on the path toward graduate school and a career in birds of prey conservation. Pourzamani said this also helped cement a career goal for her; working with birds of prey.

Undergraduate students study raptors at Boise State as part of Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in Raptor Research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and Boise State. The raptor researchers also teamed up with mathematics and material science students to facilitate interdisciplinary efforts.

Other raptor activities included helping to band osprey and study northern goshawks. Pourzamani said she appreciated having the opportunity to work with bigger, different birds of prey. While the burrowing owls were small and could be held in one hand, the ospreys and goshawks were bigger and required different handling techniques.

“It was a wonderful experience to have hands-on with different raptors,” Pourzamani said.

The REU in Raptor Research program is a newer effort at Boise State to help prepare undergrads who are interested in raptor studies for master’s programs.

Marc Bechard, the director of the Raptor Research Center, said Boise State has the only Master of Science in Raptor Biology degree program in the world that he’s aware of. Most other universities and schools only offer biology or ecology degrees with some raptor courses available.

Bechard came to Boise State in 1983 with plans to initiate the raptor program. In 1987 the Raptor Research Center was officially established and the first raptor classes began. Research from Bechard and other professors involved in the Raptor Research Center is utilized locally, nationally and even globally.

“It certainly is different,” Bechard said about the master’s program.

Bechard said the undergraduate experiences are great and are a way of exposing students to the raptor program at Boise State.