Birds are utterly fascinating creatures, far more like humans than we typically assume.  They build elaborate homes, use complex languages for communicating, can problem solve, have distinct personalities and social behaviors, come in all shapes and sizes, celebrate and make time for play, and many vacation in warm places during the winter months. Beyond that, birds are also vital to the health of our ecosystem—another attribute we don’t often give them credit for.

The Utah-based nonprofit organization HawkWatch International understands the captivating and critical role of our flying friends and aims to protect birds of prey and the ecosystems that support them for the benefit of all: raptors, humans and the planet.

“The presence of raptors in the wild serves as a barometer of ecosystem health,” says Christina Castellano, director of development and communications at HawkWatch International. “These birds are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and help control populations of small mammals and insects. They also help mitigate diseases by feeding on carcasses. But threats such as habitat loss, collisions with building glass and other man-made structures, and climate change threaten their existence, and in turn, our own existence.

”That’s one reason HawkWatch International researches the population trends of raptors—to detect environmental change and focus its conservation efforts on the data gathered from this research. The organization also offers a host of environmental education programs, school outreach and community events designed to engage and inform the public—including hawk watch migration outings, wildlife photography sessions, lectures and more.

“Our efforts to sustain and protect these remarkable creatures have led us to study and learn from them throughout their lives—from spring nesting to fall migration to winter survival. We’ve used this data to inform land managers, scientists and our community about what raptors need to thrive,” added Christina.

Annually the organization observes roughly 25 species and over 300,000 individual raptors, capturing, banding and releasing about 2,000 of them.