Jodeane Cancilla, Macbride Raptor Project

Photo by Tim Schoon.

Birds of prey are often thought of as powerful creatures—rightfully so, considering their large beaks and talons and keen sense of vision. But even raptors succumb to injury or illness. That’s where Jodeane Cancilla’s role takes flight.

Cancilla is coordinator of the Macbride Raptor Project, which is devoted to preserving Iowa’s birds of prey and their natural habitats. In addition to the rehabilitation of sick and injured birds, the project offers educational programs to the public and conducts field research of Iowa’s native raptors.

Cancilla, who’s worked at the Raptor Project in some capacity since 1989, spoke with fyi about the bittersweet moment of a raptor’s release and her odd experience taking care of animals a bit more scaly than your average bird of prey.

Have you been a lifelong lover of nature and/or wildlife?

As far back as I can remember I have always been someone that has enjoyed nature and wildlife. My parents would take my two brothers, my sister, and me camping almost every weekend when we were growing up. We lived in a number of different states so we had pretty good exposure to a variety of different areas.

The Macbride Raptor Project has more than one location, correct?

Yes, we are fortunate to be cosponsored by the Department of Recreational Services at The University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. I spend part of each day on both campuses. At Kirkwood we have our medical clinic and admit and treat more than 150 birds of prey annually. We also provide daily care to 10 non-releasable raptors.

A few of my favorite things…


Dr. Pepper

Lunch at Shakespeare’s

The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Michelle Shocked

Comedy films

The TV show Doc Martin

Green Bay Packers

At the Macbride Nature Recreation Area we care for 20 non-releasable raptors; this is also the home of our flight cage, where we help retrain the birds to fly. This is where we offer most of our tours. We complete more than 350 programs a year; between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend yearly. Every day is different—I like that about my job.

Describe the feeling you get when a rehabilitated bird takes flight.

Returning a bird to the wild is often a bittersweet moment. On occasion we’re spending several weeks or months working with a bird. So even though I know the wild is where they belong I can’t help but wonder if they will be OK, if we did everything right.

What’s the most unexpected thing to happen to you at work?

A few years ago I was asked to help both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources out on a case. They closed down an illegal group that was selling wildlife. They called and asked if I would be willing to care for some of the worst cases. Of course I said yes.

Shortly after that several cars and vans arrived with some very sick turtles, snakes, frogs…and two crocodiles! I stayed very late that night to admit and care for all of the animals. They were with me for about three months before the case went to trial. The turtles, frogs, and snakes were not too bad. Those crocodiles were another story. In the end, no one (animal or human) was injured and all the animals were taken to new homes after the trial. Unfortunately, none of them could return to the wild.

Do you open your home to pets, feathered or otherwise?

Yes, I have six rescue dogs (three Italian greyhounds, three dachshunds) and one cat. And I have taken many birds home with me when they require additional treatment.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy helping out the local high school with set building for their theater performances.

If you had the time/means to try something new, what would it be?

I think I would travel to places where I could help build homes or bring supplies—just support people who needed it.