"We study them, as others study wolves or polar bears, because they are at the top of the food chain. If raptors are doing well or not, then that's a reflection on the environment as a whole."
Neil Paprocki '07 works with big, fierce-eyed birds. He does it because he loves them, but also because monitoring their survival shows humans how well they're doing here on the planet. His lifelong interest in nature also prompted him to co-direct a half-hour documentary film about a man who works with smaller, less-fierce birds.
The 2014 film depicts then-91-year-old Alfred Larson, who helped raise 27,000 threatened American bluebirds starting in 1978. Larson's work fits in with Paprocki's focus. "I was always interested in wild animals. I didn't quite know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't aim to become a veterinarian," says Paprocki, who grew up on 65 acres in upstate New York and majored in animal behavior at Bucknell.
As a conservation biologist at the Utah-based nonprofit HawkWatch International, Paprocki now monitors the migration and health of raptors, including golden eagles and American kestrels, which have wingspans of between 2 to 6 feet. Both have sharp talons and an even-sharper gaze. He also remains a scientific adviser and co-founder of Wild Lens, the production company that produced Bluebird Man.
At HawkWatch, Paprocki tracks the tall, charismatic golden and the American kestrel, which preys on small mammals and insects. He puts out nest boxes for kestrels in the Wasatch Front mountain region of Utah, attaches GPS transmitters to young golden eagles to track their movements and survival, and measures threats against both species — especially the eagles. He and team members have found that in winter, golden eagles are hit by cars while scavenging roadkill. Next winter, Paprocki and others will try tactics to decrease these road fatalities.
Increasing raptor numbers would be thrilling for Parocki. "I think raptors are awesome," he says. "We study them, as others study wolves or polar bears, because they are at the top of the food chain. If raptors are doing well or not, then that's a reflection on the environment as a whole."