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The Raptor Factor

Episode hosts

Kayla Edmunds

    In this episode of Naturally Speaking, host Kayla Edmunds is joined by Mark Manske, ornithologist and owner of Adirondack Raptors. Together, they discuss a few things such as what exactly a raptor is and what Mark's business, Adirondack Raptors, does. Plus, learn how that big colorful bird Kevin from the movie Up relate to the study of raptors. Stay tuned! 

    Episode transcript

    Mark Manske (00:00):

    And the owl was nesting in there. And the owl said, nah, this is our nest now. And I guess they locked talons, and they ended up both dead.

    Kayla Edmunds (00:08):

    Welcome back to another episode of Naturally Speaking. My name is Kayla Edmunds, and today we're joined by Mark Manske, ornithologist and owner of Adirondack Raptors. We'll be discussing a few things such as what exactly a raptor is, what Adirondack Raptors does. And how does that big colorful bird Kevin from the movie Up relate to all of this? Stay tuned! Hi, Mark. Thanks again so much for joining me today. I've been wanting to talk with you more since I saw you give a presentation at Hermon-DeKalb Central School a few years ago. Just to get started, can you tell us a bit about who you are and about Adirondack Raptors?

    Mark Manske (00:51):

    Well, um, most people up here know me. I, I taught public schools for 27 years. Couple years in Schroon Lake, eight years at Brushton-Moira Central School, and then 17 years over at Brasher Falls in St. Lawrence Central. And plus I've been teaching courses on birds of prey over at Paul Smith's College for, I think the last 12 years, 12 out of 15 years. Um, and, uh, I've been a public educator for forever. My family grew up in Potsdam and my dad taught at the college and I got Adirondack Raptors started, basically it became a formaly started back in 2008. And what I do is I go around with birds of prey as you can see, and we do educational programs, teach people about birds of prey. Let people see them up close and personal, that type of thing. Yeah, it's more just to educate the public and, and have people more aware of these special creatures.

    Kayla Edmunds (02:15):

    Yeah, that's awesome. And since I'm the only one who can see you right now, since this is going to be a podcast, can you just tell us a little bit about the guest that you have with you?

    Mark Manske (02:25):

    Yeah. What I have here is a Red-tailed Hawk. This is Scarlet, Scarlet we picked up about three months ago. She had a very swollen, very injured right foot. And when we caught her, you can tell that you could see the bite marks where she tried to probably tried to grab a squirrel and ended up getting the tail, but not the body. And so the turned around and bit her, and because of that, she got, infected. And if they do get infected birds of prey have very poor circulation. And so they end up, it could have been lethal for her and she was definitely going that route. She was not looking very healthy at all. So, we caught her, she, the whole purpose of catching her. I was planning on putting her under my own permit, as I'm a master falconer. And I thought this way we can, we can nurse her back to health. We can train her and get her back to hunting, because she's a young bird. She's only, probably about when we caught her she was only about six months old. Now she's about eight or nine months old and, and we'll get her, so she's proficient at hunting, knows what she's doing, clear up the infection. And then the goal is to let her go in about a year or two.

    Kayla Edmunds (03:55):

    Well, it seems like she's in great hands now. Could you elaborate a bit more about what got you into ornithology in the first place? And if there was any one moment where you thought to yourself, this is it, this is what I want to do.

    Mark Manske (04:12):

    I don't know if there was a distinct one particular defining moment. I know with me part of, part of what got me involved when I was an undergrad at Potsdam College, Potsdam State, in the summers I used to go and I would work at Yellowstone and my very first summer, well, my very first year at Potsdam, I found a Northern, well, I found a location where there was a Northern Harrier hanging out. And I had it narrowed down to maybe about 10 acre area. And I got ahold of Doctor Swanka, who was the ornithology professor at the time. And I got a hold of him and I said, Hey, Dr. Swanka I have, I got this Northern Harrier nest. And he got all excited and he came out and he said, well, where is it? And I said, it's in this 10 acre area.

    Mark Manske (05:15):

    And he looked at me and he said it's not going to be easy to find, you know how hard it is to find a bird like that nesting on the, because they nest on the ground. And as we were talking, my dog at the time was trotting along and he went over to sniff and where he went over to sniff the Harrier flew off and I said, it's that hard Doc. And we went over and we took a peek from a distance and sure enough, there's, here's the nest with eggs. And he looked at me and we got out of the areas, quick as we could and he said, it's not that easy. And that's what got me interested. Then over the summers, he would send me pictures, when the chicks hatched, when they were bigger, when they fledge. And that really got me interested in Harriers.

    Mark Manske (06:08):

    And pretty soon I started corresponding with Fran Hamerstrom, and Dr. Fran Hammerstrom, or Frances Hamerstrom was pretty much the queen of Northern Harriers in North America at the time. She had a research project on harriers that started the year I was born and I started corresponding with her, and when I graduated college, I went off to University of Wisconsin Stevens Point for my Masters. And I worked on her Harrier project for three years. And I think that kind of before then I was thinking, Oh coyotes are cool and oh mountain lions are neat. But then once, once I got over to working with the Hamerstrom's and started handling birds and working with birds, I got pretty much locked in on birds of prey.

    Kayla Edmunds (06:59):

    You're like, this is it. Oh, that's so, that's really neat. And then I guess sort of, kind of going off of that. So you went out to the University of Wisconsin and kind of like from there, what was the timeline of you like really getting into ornithology and then like actually, uh, creating Adirondack Raptors. It might be kind of a wider span of time, but

    Mark Manske (07:23):

    There was, I mean, when I was working with the Hamerstroms, that was what, 84? 85, 86, 87, 1984, 86, 87. And then I came back and when I got back into New York State and I got into teaching a said I'm not going to, I'm not going to give this stuff up. This is amazing. And I can really see myself doing this kind of thing, most of my life. And so, I looked around and I found a gentleman by the name of Mike Peterson. And Mike Peterson is no longer with us, but Mike lived in Elizabethtown, he held different positions, but for awhile, he was the president of the High Peaks Audubon Society. Now the whole Northern Adirondacks, the whole Northern New York Adirondack Audubon society used to be broken into a few different groups. And he was the High Peaks person.

    Mark Manske (08:32):

    And he was also a bander. And so, I contacted him and I said, Oh, I would love, here's my credentials. Here's who I work with. This is what I've done. And I would love to continue working on. So I ended up, I was under his master banding permit for 20 years and I started my kestrel project under him, and couple other things I did under him. And then I kept wanting to expand. And you could tell Mike kept wanting to kind of pull back and around for awhile. And so I decided Mike was way too good to me for us to leave with negative feelings. So I thought, now I better, now's the time for me to kind of get my own permits and expand. And so we applied for my own master banding permit.

    Mark Manske (09:26):

    And once I got that, then I started shifting, we started doing the Kestrel project and I had people coming out and even way back with the Hamerstrom's I saw the, bringing people out and teaching them in the field. And, and I thought, wouldn't that be cool? And my original plan with Adirondack Raptors was to take people to nests and put them at blinds. The only problem with that is the birds of prey can be so sensitive. And you bring people out there, especially people who don't know what they're doing, or they want that picture above anything else. And very quickly I decided I'm not going to do it that way, because if I do, I'm going to end up causing a lot of grief and problems for the birds. So, then we decided why don't we start shifting and. bringing the birds to people. And it was in between when I started teaching and working with Mike, and before I started doing Adirondack Raptors, I got involved with falconry and the whole falconry thing, I could have started way back with the Hamerstroms.

    Mark Manske (10:46):

    You need a place to house the birds, and it's not really fair to just stick them in a box and cart them around. So I waited until I was established and had my own property and set up where I could take care of the birds and keep them healthy and keep them safe. So it kinda was a progression, it started back in 87, then by 2008, it finally, the business started and then we've been growing ever since. Yeah.

    Kayla Edmunds (11:20):

    What is a raptor and what makes it, makes them different from other birds, as a group?

    Mark Manske (11:25):

    Well, people ask that all the time. Cause you see, raptors are birds of prey, right? Because a heron eats frogs, it's a bird of prey and a loon eats fish, it's a bird of prey. Raptors get their name from the Latin word "raptere," which means to grasp, basically using their feet. So birds of prey or raptors, use their feet to kill their prey or to capture their prey. That would include the owls, the hawks, the eagles, the falcons, vultures not as much, the new world vultures are really more related to storks than they are to birds of prey. But the old-world vultures, they do put them into the raptor category. And the other big one, which blows people's mind is the secretary bird, secretary bird is considered a raptor.

    Mark Manske (12:29):

    And for most people they don't, most people have never seen the secretary bird except for on TV or whatever. They're found in Africa. They walk around on the plains; they look like the stork or a crane. I always tell people, the most common place that people would have seen the secretary bird is if you watch the movie Up, and remember Up, they had that big bird with the feather sticking out of its head, Kevin, I think it was Kevin. That was the secretary bird. And the reason why, the reason why it is considered, falls under the raptors group is because it utilizes his feet to catch its food. It actually kicks it's food to death with its feet, but because it uses its feet, it's considered, it falls under that category, which is kind of gross and morbid.

    Kayla Edmunds (13:33):

    Kicks its food to death seems a little, a little bit brutal, but I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do. I guess

    Mark Manske (13:38):

    You gotta do what you gotta do to survive, right.

    Kayla Edmunds (13:43):

    For those who want to see more of this bird, check out the webpage for this podcast at natureupnorth.org to see exactly why they're called secretary birds. Oh, that's so interesting. I never would've even like guessed or thought of that. Definitely. The first thing is just like, Oh, owls, like hawks, kind of that's your classic one, but neat to know that there's a few others that fall into that category.

    Mark Manske (14:08):

    Yeah. And people are amazed cause they always mention, they're like, well, all of these other birds will eat. And what about, what about a swallow, they're grabbing insects they're a bird of prey, it's like, well, they kind of are, but they're not a raptor. A raptor uses their talons or their feet.

    Kayla Edmunds (14:29):

    That's a good classification too. Cause I definitely tend to kind of think of raptors and birds of prey as like very synonymous in my, in my head. But that point is actually like a lot of birds are birds of prey when you consider it that way.

    Mark Manske (14:42):

    Yeah. Yup.

    Kayla Edmunds (14:44):

    I've heard, there are instances of nest sharing such as between Red-tailed Hawks or Barred Owls. Is this true or is that not really the full story?

    Mark Manske (14:56):

    Well, a Red-tailed will build its nest and they tend to come back to the same nest over and over and over again. Owls and falcons, don't build nests, they steal nests. So it's not uncommon to find, I have goshawk nest that I come back in year after year and there's Gos (Goshawk), and then one year there's a Great Horned Owl in it. Or there's a Barred Owl in it, so they will definitely, I don't know if sharing is the right word because those birds are taking the nest over. But yeah. Other birds will use those nests. Cause you got to remember, your earliest natural nesting bird in North America is, well, at least up here is the Great Horned Owl. I mean they're nesting, they can be nesting, they can be on eggs up here in January.

    Mark Manske (15:49):

    And late in February, January. So what, what they do is they'll come in and they'll find a nest, a buddy of mine who used to be a climber for the Bald Eagle project in Wisconsin, in Michigan. When he told me a story one year they'd fly the planes over before, before the leaf out, by then the Bald Eagles would be back on the nests and they would check and say, okay, you're looking for white heads and they'd say, all right, we got, we got eagles at these nests. And then Joe X number of months later would climb, band the chicks, that type of thing. Um, one year they said, all right, we havem they're at all these nests. And, um, but this one nest there's something going on.

    Mark Manske (16:41):

    And we saw, we saw a white tail, but it looked strange. So when Joe finally climb that nest, what he found was here's momma Bald Eagle, but there was a female Great Horned Owl in the nest too. She had started nesting there, eagles return because those nests can weigh well over a ton there every year they're pair bonding and they're adding to their nest. And then, so they're not going to just give that nest up. And they came back in the, and the owl was nesting in there and the owl said, nah, this is our nest now. And I guess they locked talons. And they ended up both dead,

    Kayla Edmunds (17:23):

    Wow, oh my gosh.

    Mark Manske (17:26):

    Which, which an eagle is, a Bald Eagle is much more powerful than a Great Horned Owl. But Great Horned Owls are pretty darn powerful themselves.

    Kayla Edmunds (17:34):

    Yeah. And they just ended up stuck together.

    Mark Manske (17:38):

    Yeah. They ended up both dying

    Kayla Edmunds (17:42):

    That is - whoo.

    Mark Manske (17:50):

    And I'm always finding nests where, it started out being a Goshwak and now it's a Great Horned Owl or that type of thing.

    Kayla Edmunds (17:58):

    Yeah. So there's a lot of kind of switching, stealing, thievery, going on.

    Mark Manske (18:04):

    I mean, Merlin's are known for it and Merlin's steal what, they usually steal like crow's nest, squirrel's nest get utilized a lot by raptors, and ospreys and Bald Eagles will switch off.

    Kayla Edmunds (18:19):

    Anything they can get their hands on.

    Mark Manske (18:23):

    Yep. Or their talons.

    Kayla Edmunds (18:23):

    Yeah, exactly. Another question that I had was are raptors territorial. And like, for those that may be how kind of like, wide do some territories range?

    Mark Manske (18:39):

    Well, they're definitely territorial. Yeah. I mean, if you get into a Gos (Goshawk), if you get into a nesting area where there's nesting goshawk, they're going to chase you out of the woods. So they're definitely territorial. And it makes sense. I mean, there's, there's limited food, there's limited resources and you have a certain home range that you're hunting. And then the territory is the part that you protect. Generally the territory is obviously the part where your nest is. You don't want some marauder coming in there who could potentially raid your nest. So they're very aggressive and protective around the nest and that's, that's pretty much all birds and pretty much all birds. I mean, if you have robins that are nesting in the eaves of your house and you happen to be walking over near the eaves of your house that Robin's chirping and the chortling at you, might even dive bomb, And they do, the home range, they protect their home range from other, if we're talking Goshawks they protect them from other Gos.

    Mark Manske (19:54):

    If it's, if it's red tails from other red tails, because I kind of like liken it to think about, and I'm going back to the movie, think about the Lion King and they're sitting on the rock and they're watching all the wildebeests and all the critters moving through on the plains. And that was their pride land. Well, you go off their pride land into somebody else's territory, you got to compete with somebody else. So you want your own little area that you don't have to worry about. There's going to be, there should be food there now, just like with lions in Africa, the prey moves through and it's feast or famine. And when they're there, you're feasting like crazy. When they move out, if you stay on your home range, you might not have as much food. And then it's a good thing that you have an area that's protected that is you can call your own because every little nook and cranny and you don't have to fight some other bird for the food. And birds of prey, raptors they're both, the male and the female are both on that home range and people think, well, aren't they competing with each other?

    Mark Manske (21:16):

    And they kind of are, but in the bird of prey world, the males tend to be smaller. The females tend to be larger, it's called reverse sexual dimorphism. And because of that, the males picking off the smaller food the females picking off the larger food. And even though they are competing somewhat, they're not competing a hundred percent. There's a little bit, we know that they, they can kind of compartmentalize what each one is feeding on and hunting.

    Kayla Edmunds (21:48):

    Makes sense. And actually, what, what's the reasoning kind of behind that reverse sexual dimorphism? What's the male versus female roles like in Raptors?

    Mark Manske (21:59):

    Well, there's a lot of theories on one there's about 12, 13, theories on here's why reverse sexual dimorphism happens. It definitely happens because it's a predatory burden. It does doesn't happen with chickadees, but birds that are predatory, it does. And they notice with raptors. There's a bigger difference between the male versus female, the faster the prey. So the faster, the item, the bigger the female is the smaller the male is. So part of it has to do with the speed of the prey. The other part is the jobs of the two. The female's main job is, she's taking care of the eggs. She's protecting the nest. So she's the main defense at the nest. So she wants to be a force to be reckoned with in case somebody uninvited shows up. If they show up once they don't want to, she doesn't want them to show up again.

    Mark Manske (23:06):

    So she wants to be big and formidable. The male on the other hand, it's not deadbeat dad. He's not just hanging around and saying, go get 'em girl. He's got a job too. And his job is he's the one who's the main food supplier, the quicker, the smaller, the quicker, the more agile you are, the easier it is to catch food, the less calories you're burning when you're flying. All of that factors in. There are other things too. I mean, the female wants to be bigger because the males are hotwired to hunt, she's got to dominate him so that he doesn't start picking his own chicks when they're very small. So there are all kinds of theories, the bigger the female, she has more body area, more body to cushion the eggs inside her, because her, again, her lifestyle, she's grabbing food and she could be dragged around and thrashed around and thrown around by a rabbit or whatever.

    Mark Manske (24:11):

    I have not yet seen a chickadee fly down, grab a sunflower seed and get thrashed all over the place. You know? So the bigger the body, the more you can protect your eggs inside you, and the bigger the body, the more you can cover up the eggs when you're brooding and incubating. So there's a lot of different theories on why, but it tends to come back to what they noticed was it tended to come back to the speed of the prey. So I think that you look at those things and you think are the jobs of the birds make a lot of sense.

    Kayla Edmunds (24:54):

    Definitely kind of like this, this adds up these different factors kind of have clear roles in that. Focusing back in on you a little more. Do you have a favorite either just like favorite raptor species in general, or of the birds that you have, do you have a favorite or is that like having a favorite child?

    Mark Manske (25:18):

    That's what I always tell people. I'm like, the favorite child is the one in front of you with that very moment or the one who's not ticking you off. I mean, I love my Morley, my Eurasian Eagle Owl, and I love my Tessie. Those two I've had some babies and their bonded to me. I mean, they're imprinted on me. They think of me as Papa. As far as wild ones, I like, I love all the species, but I have a very fond spot for the Northern Harriers. Just because that's the one that got me started, but, I've been doing, this will be our 20th season with kestrels. And I started working with kestrels back with the Hamerstrom's, and I love kestrels. I'm really interested in Long-eared Owls and how they're doing and what they're up to. We're coming up to our 10th season with the Saw Whets and they're amazing. All the, I think they're all pretty cool. I guess if I had to boil it down, I like the Harrier's best just because it was my first one.

    Kayla Edmunds (26:27):

    You have the history with them.

    Kayla Edmunds (26:31):

    Kind of doing a 180. So I was looking over the Adirondack Raptors page and I noticed your Wandering Gaboon series. And I was like, this is so fun, and I really enjoyed it. And I was just kind of wondering, what inspired you to do that? And do you have any plans to make more of those videos? Follow the link on our website to see the Wandering Gaboon series, which is a video series that currently showcases Mark exploring the North Country and banding Northern Saw Whet owls,

    Mark Manske (27:01):

    What inspired me to do it was Mark got bored, this whole pandemic. So I thought, yeah, I think I'm going to do something like this. I have about five more that are partially made, I've just been, I like doing kind of a salute to a vet at the end. I had a veteran lined up for the third one and he's a buddy of a buddy of mine. His wife's father was actually a Prisoner of War from the Battle of the Bulge. And I thought he would be an amazing person to honor, but she was in the hospital recently. So I've been kind of waiting on that. Because I got one on Snowy Owls, I was kind of ready to go, we've been catching with part of a project that studies Snowy Owls. I got one where we're starting to look at, the giants of the Adirondacks, the big elder grove, the pines near, [inaudible] which I guess is the tallest White Pine in New York right now.

    Mark Manske (28:30):

    All right, what are you doing? It's about 150 feet? And so I'm hoping to do a few different ones coming up. I just kinda waiting on, I like to honor . one of the vets from the North Country, you have so many people up here who've done so much.

    Kayla Edmunds (28:56):

    Yeah, definitely. Well, I'll certainly look forward to seeing that. Is she getting just like more active or antsy, why she kind of moving around a bit more?

    Mark Manske (29:06):

    Well, when we're done we're, I've got to hook her to the creance and take her hood off and try to fly her little and feed her. So I think she's thinking oh boy I'm going to be fed soon.

    Kayla Edmunds (29:18):

    She thinks it's about time.

    Mark Manske (29:18):

    Yeah. Yep. Pretty much.

    Kayla Edmunds (29:23):

    We were coming to the end of our interview here, Scarlet, the Red-tailed Hawk, who we met at the beginning of the podcast and had kind of just been hanging out on Mark's arm up until this point started to get a bit more active and antsy, although who can really blame her, especially around lunchtime.

    Kayla Edmunds (29:42):

    Are there any, like last thoughts or things that you want people to know about Adirondack Raptors or just raptors in general?

    Mark Manske (29:51):

    Well, also I'll mention, a few years ago I started publishing children's books. So the first one was about being buried in the snow, trying to catch the Snowy Owl over at the Malone airport and the second one was about the Barnum and Bailey circus train accident in the 1800's, and finding the skeletons and book three is all about doing the Saw Whet owls So yeah, and book four is going to be all about Scarlet's here, that's the plan anyhow. We got into writing books. We're finishing up this will be our 20th season on krestrels, 10th season on Saw Whets, and we've been helping out since 2014 with the Snowy Owl project throughout the country. So, yeah, we've got our fingers plugged into all kinds of places.

    Kayla Edmunds (30:59):

    Yeah. Sounds like you have a lot of, a lot of things going.

    Mark Manske (31:02):

    And it was kind of fun because growing up here I used to watch all of these nature videos, thinking that it would be really cool to do something like that. Well, nowadays Peregrine Fund and different places are contacting us and saying, tell us about your population, cause it's really doing well. And I think to myself, who would've thought, growing up as a kid dreaming about doing this kind of stuff that up in this area, people are starting to look at this area and saying, hey, something's going on up here that's good for the kestrels. And it's decent, it's better than most places for the Goshawk up here. And all of that kind of stuff I looked at when I was younger thinking, wouldn't it be cool to do that? Now it looks like, those types of things, you plug at it long enough, it becomes reality.

    Kayla Edmunds (32:04):

    Yeah! Well, I will let you get to feeding her and all of that. Thank you again!

    Mark Manske (32:10):

    You are welcome!

    Kayla Edmunds (32:12):

    Thank you all for tuning in to another episode of Naturally Speaking and thank you Mark for taking the time to share your passion for raptors with us. Be sure to check him out at adirondackraptors.org, or his Facebook page, Adirondack Raptors. Check out our other podcasts, and our social media at Nature Up North on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Get up and get outdoors with Nature Up North!