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Determining the prey of raptors on migration using non-invasive genetic technique

Falcons and Accipiters rely on powered flight during migration and must hunt in order to fuel their journey. This means that the availability of prey along a migratory route is critical to migratory raptors such as the sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) and merlin (Falco columbarius). Determining the diet of migrating raptors has been difficult in the past, however, modern genetic techniques can allow us to reveal the specific diet of these bird-eating raptors and give insight into predator-prey interactions during their migration.

Dr. Josh Hull and graduate student Ryan Bourbour, from UC Davis (Hull Lab) and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, aim to develop a non-invasive technique that can identify prey DNA to species from samples collected from the surface of beaks and talons of raptors banded at hawk migration sites. 

Samples collected from resident birds at the California Raptor Center will contribute to the development of effective laboratory methods, which will be applied to samples collected from wild migrating raptors. Development of this molecular dietary study technique will be a novel and valuable tool for raptor research and will further our understanding of trophic interactions and avian migration ecology.