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Raptor expert talks about the birds and writing a series of children’s books

Mark Manske with Morley, a Eurasian Eagle Owl
Pat Bradley
Mark Manske with Morley, a Eurasian Eagle Owl

Adirondack Raptors in Dickinson, New York rehabilitates, conducts educational programs and does research on birds of prey. Owner Mark Manske visits schools across the region and is writing a series of books to get youth excited about nature and animals.

Mark Manske is a big man, standing over six feet tall. He enters the building with Morley, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a huge bird that surveys everyone with its pumpkin-orange eyes, rotating its head and securing hand-size talons on its perch.

Morley is one of the owls, hawks, kestrels, eagles and falcons that Master Falconer, Master Raptor Bander and wildlife rehabilitator Mark Manske works with.

“I don’t know if you can put your finger on one thing that intrigues me with raptors, there’s just so many of them,” Manske said. “They tend to be the top of the food chain, so that’s impressive. They tend to be keystone species so if the environment’s having issues they will let you know because they’re having issues. Just the variety of them. You know 200 species of owls in the world. And then raptors we tend to think of hawks, eagles, falcons, owls. But the Secretary Bird is considered a raptor. Most people would have seen them in the movie ‘Up’. They look like hawks walking around on stilts. And because they kill snakes with their feet, and a raptor is something that kills with their feet, they qualify as being a raptor.”

Manske, an adjunct professor at Paul Smith’s College, also works with wild birds as a master bander.

“When they are in our hand they are our responsibility to keep them safe,” Manske said. “Obviously, we’re banding them. We’re doing some things that they’d prefer not to, us to do. It’s kind of like an alien abduction. But we’re trying to be as respectful as we can with them. And then once we’re done with them, we want to get them back as quick as we can. If you’re working on keeping species safe and protecting species there is going to be some interaction that might be stressful with the birds, but you want to keep that to a minimum.”

Manske just won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for his series “Adventures with Stoney” based on his life working in nature with birds of prey. He was a public school teacher for 27 years and writing for children is a natural extension of his and his friend’s work and experiences.

“Most of these stories are based on experiences that have happened to me through my lifetime or friends of mine where they say ‘oh yeah you can use that adventure,’” Manske said. “ One experience in my third book ‘Adrift in the Mystical River of Owls’, George in Lake Placid, he was telling me about the time he fell asleep in his hammock and he’s woken up with something poking his face and he kind of peeked with one eye. And here’s this bear staring at him! I said ‘Hey George would you mind if I use that story? Most of my stories come from, again, adventures I’ve had or people I know.”

Manske hopes his books inspire youth just as the nature programs he watched as a kid motivated him.

“When I first stated I read ‘In the Shadow of Man’ by Jane Goodall and I thought wouldn’t it be cool living with the chimpanzees in Africa,” Manske said. “Well I never went to Africa. Never lived with the chimpanzees. And I got this mindset of all right I want to share. I want to push it out to the next generation. And you want to have somebody out there who’s going to be pushing it further. You know we stand on each other’s shoulders and if somebody’s not holding up that generation then the whole pyramid collapses.”

Adirondack Raptors and Mark Manske participate in several research projects including the American Kestral Nestbox Project, monitoring the population and breeding patterns of Northern Goshawks, and owl banding.