Gus stares at me, his eyes deep brown and unblinking. There’s something primitive about his gaze. It’s certainly not a human look, and I wonder what he sees,
 what he’s thinking. Gus is a 19-year-old golden eagle and a resident ambassador at Teton Raptor Center for 17 years, since the early days when Teton Raptor Center was the Raptor Fund (with only $100 in the bank, some mice in the freezer, and raptors in the living room of the center’s founders, Roger Smith and Margaret Creel). Smith tells people: Staring into a raptor’s eyes is staring into true wildness. He believes one of the gifts of Teton Raptor Center is that it allows people to experience that wildness at arm’s length. From its humble beginnings, Teton Raptor Center has grown into an educational and rehabilitative organization with a $1.9 million budget and a 27-acre campus on the historic Hardeman Ranch in Wilson, Wyoming. The facilities include an innovative flight barn and clinic for the care and rehabilitation of injured raptors, a dedicated space for educational programs, a nature shop in the restored Hardeman Barn, and housing and office space for staff and interns.


Five types of raptors can be found in Jackson Hole: owls, falcons, hawks, ospreys, and eagles. All raptors share three characteristics. They are carnivores able to hunt, catch, and kill live prey. They have strong talons or toes that can grasp and hold their prey. (The name raptor comes from the Latin word rapere, which means to grab with force.) And they all have sharp beaks capable of tearing off bite-sized chunks of meat. Some of the most common raptors found in the region include ...

Great Horned Owls, Bubo virginianus:

The most common owl species in North America, great horned owls, are known for their distinctive ear tufts and deep hooting voices. Great horned owls are crepuscular animals (which means they are active at dawn and dusk), and their excellent vision and hearing allow them to hunt mice and voles in dim light. With an average wingspan of 4.6 feet and height of roughly 2 feet, these owls are surprisingly light, weighing around 2 to 3 pounds, with females coming in slightly larger than males. Great horned owls take over nests abandoned by other species to raise their young.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

Named for their distinctive red tail feathers, red-tailed hawks actually show up in a wide variety of color morphs. Red-tails are one of North America’s most widespread and commonly seen large hawks and can often be spotted perched on telephone poles and large trees or soaring overhead. Red-tails have wingspans of nearly 5 feet, and weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds. The birds feed on ground squirrels, voles, mice, and rabbits. They are also known to eat snakes — a red-tail can swoop in and grab a rattlesnake with its talons before the snake has time to strike.

Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

One of the most seen raptors in Jackson Hole, due to the nesting platforms found along the highway between Jackson and Wilson, ospreys live on every continent in the world except Antarctica. An osprey’s diet consists almost entirely of fish, and they are excellent anglers, successfully snagging their prey in at least seven out of every 10 attempts. Ospreys have remarkable vision that enables them to see fish below the water’s surface, and when they dive, a nictitating membrane moves across their eyes, creating a type of goggle that allows them to see clearly underwater.

Bald Eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus