A mounted Mongolian hunter with his golden eagle stares out at onlookers from an arresting photo on a wall at The Archives of Falconry at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. He is a Kazakh of western Mongolia, one of a handsome people of a harsh and arid land.
This image stirred a curiosity for these people and this lifestyle. I wanted to see for myself the intriguing world this rider inhabited. And this past fall I did — along with about 600 others who were attending Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival.
People and animals were milling about when we arrived — mounted hunters dressed in fox furs and richly embroidered trousers with hooded eagles on their arms, spectators, and even a few festooned camels.
Soon the competitors and onlookers sorted themselves out, and the festivities began with a cantering parade of mounted horsemen and women, their eagles now on perches mounted on their horses’ saddles. Then, making a second loop, the equestrians let loose — their horses now thundering by in full gallop; their eagles balancing with wings spread wide. Soon those magnificent birds, trained by their mounted human counterparts, would be freed from their fetters to compete along with their human partners in demonstrations of hunting skill and dexterity.
As the eagles rocketed from the mountainside to their trainers in the arena below, it was easy to make comparisons with the soaring raptors of our American Northwest — and to think of The Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit organization centered in Boise whose mission is to conserve endangered raptors around the world.
Golden eagles are not endangered in Mongolia, but in many parts of the world, many birds of prey species teeter on the edge of extinction. The ongoing international work of The Peregrine Fund involves research in numerous countries to discover the reasons why species trend toward extinction and to promote sustainable solutions that include habitat restoration, captive breeding with wild release and other measures designed to ensure the continuation of those species.
Recognizing the need to educate, The Peregrine Fund created an ambitious goal: to educate a raptor biologist in every nation on the planet, hoping that their energy and enthusiasm for conservation will continue and, in time, be embraced by each country.
Since its the establishment in 1970 by Tom Cade, now a Boise resident, over 100 international students have been helped by The Peregrine Fund to acquire advanced degrees. Projects have been conducted in countries as far flung as Madagascar, the Philippines, the Arctic and Pakistan.
While most of the educational efforts take place in the countries where research is conducted, occasionally a student is brought to the United States for advanced training. A Mongolian student named Nyambayar (Nyamba) Batbayar was one such student.
Identified to The Peregrine Fund by his professors in Mongolia as outstanding and deserving of further education and study opportunities, The Peregrine Fund invited Nyamba to study with university faculty here in Boise and The Peregrine Fund’s international programs directed by Dr. Rick Watson.
The Peregrine Fund paid Batbayar’s travel, stipend and housing expenses and university fees while he worked to master English and then study in Boise State’s unique master’s in raptor biology program. Watson, who served as Batbayar’s mentor and co-supervisor for his thesis research on cinereous vultures, helped him settle into Boise culture and lifestyle when he first arrived from Mongolia.
“Everything I did during my stay in Boise was pretty much relevant to what I do now,” Batbayer says. “I think of myself a lucky person because I had these great people well known in the raptor world around me, and I had this unique chance to watch and learn from them.”
Batbayar not only completed his master’s degree but also ultimately acquired a PhD. Now, as founder and director of Mongolia’s nonprofit Wildlife Science and Conservation Center, he’s engaged in research with far-reaching conservation implications.
“Nyamba has become a force for conservation good in Mongolia, tackling thorny issues like electrocution of raptors on new power lines,” Watson said. “He has taken on The Peregrine Fund’s strategy and applied it to conservation in Mongolia, in ways we could never have imagined.”
Learn for yourself
Education is a critical component of all conservation efforts, and rare and remarkable learning opportunities are available for the curious of all ages right here in Boise. The World Center for Birds of Prey, located 6 miles south of I-84 at the end of South Cole Road (don’t confuse it with the Morley Nelson Snake River birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Kuna), is headquarters for The Peregrine Fund and home of The Archives of Falconry.
The latter is a remarkable place with rare books, art and artifacts tracing the history of falconry, one of the world’s oldest sports. Falconers’ insights and techniques play an integral role in the fund’s breeding and restoration efforts. Thanks to a gift, given in his father’s name by Sheikh Mohamad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, the archives include the Arab Falconry Heritage Wing depicting both the age-old practice of falconry in the Arab world and the sport of falconry in the United States.
Research and captive breeding programs are in progress at the World Center for Birds of Prey. Visitors can learn about these programs and much more on site at the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center. Last year the center welcomed more than 40,000 visitors. Many of those visitors took advantage of the twice-daily tours of the Archives of Falconry and in October attended Fall Flights, an event featuring trained “education birds” working in concert with their trainers at the adjacent outdoor Belknap Amphitheater.
Want more direct contact with birds? In the proper season, you can become a citizen scientist by acquiring a kestrel box and, once nesting occurs, observe the small falcons and their activities. Then you can enter your observations on The Peregrine Fund’s website for later analysis by researchers.
Across town, more birds
Still another remarkable opportunity for learning about the life of birds takes place at Boise State’s Intermountain Bird Observatory Lucky Peak Field Station, located near Lucky Peak Dam on the southernmost peak on the Boise Ridge. The observatory was founded in 1993 by Boise State University biologists Greg Kaltenecker and Dr. Marc Bechard upon the discovery that the Boise Ridge is a significant point for raptor migration. In addition, it’s a migratory stopover site for well over 100 species of song birds, many of which are neotropical migrants (birds that breed in the Temperate Zone and winter in the Tropics).
Migration studies and other research are ongoing at the observatory, where birds are netted, evaluated, banded and released. Members of the public can observe as researchers check nets, remove netted birds, carry out evaluation procedures and then band the birds. When the process is complete, observers are allowed to gently hold and then release the birds so that they may continue on their travels.
By tracking the banded birds, scientists learn more of their migration patterns, the birds’ health, migration timing, effects of weather and climate change on migration and other important information. Outreach education director Heidi Ware can provide more information about field trips, camping on site, observing or volunteering with annual bird banding, and additional learning opportunities; or check out their website or follow them on Facebook.
The observatory is open during the migratory season — April through October. When asked about education efforts at the observatory, Ware recalled the words of Sir David Attenborough who stated, “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
“As a scientist,” Ware added, “I can do all the research in the world; discover why a given population of birds is declining, and figure out exactly what we need to do to stop it. But even if I know exactly what the problem is, I will never accomplish any conservation if it is just me alone. Scientists need the help and support of everyday citizens who care about nature and want to help preserve it.”
The Intermountain Bird Observatory is embarking on a new project within the Barber Pool Conservation Area, near the juncture of Warm Springs Avenue and the Idaho 21 bridge. Hands-on science education will be available to the community there this spring.
Ellie McKinnon is a freelance writer who lives in Boise.
World Center for Birds of Prey remains closed due to weather damage
Winter was rough on World Center for Birds of Prey Interpretive Center. The center has been closed to the public since January due to extensive water damage; the roof and carpets had to be replaced. Walls and some of the interpretative exhibits were also damaged. Officials are hoping to reopen next weekend.
The center has raised more than $20,000 of its $25,000 goal to cover repairs. People can donate at https://www. peregrinefund.org/repairs.
5668 W. Flying Hawk Lane; open daily (except Mondays) 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (March-October hours); Admission: $7 general, $6 ages 62 and up, $5 ages 4-16, free to members and to children under 4.
Fire damages road to Intermountain Bird Observatory
Boise State’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, while spared major damage in the Milepost 14 Fire, has temporarily lost access to Highland Valley Road, the route used by the public to access the observatory. The damaged area is undergoing restoration efforts, so bird banding is being done at the Barber Pool site on the Boise River. The observatory raised more than $19,000 in donations last summer for fire recovery.
The observatory plans to reopen to the public this spring.
Information: www.ibo.boisestate.edu; 426-2223