Cooper Couden is Falling for Birds

In the first grade, Cooper Couden climbed a tree outside of his elementary school and found himself face-to-face with an angry American Robin, protective of her nest full of eggs. He fell out of that tree but picked himself up with a newfound interest – birds. At his teacher’s suggestion, Cooper’s mother, Traci, brought him to Carolina Raptor Center (CRC) to learn more about birds, and Cooper has been “just crazy about them” ever since.

Cooper, now twelve years old, recently moved away from the Charlotte area with his family. But according to Traci, there’s one North Carolina family tradition that the Coudens refuse to give up: summer camp at CRC.

They will be making the trek back to Charlotte for a few weeks in July so Cooper can attend the Young Vets camp, where he will shadow raptor hospital staff and learn about triage, raptor anatomy, feather imping, necropsy and more. “The summer camp puts these amazing birds right into Cooper’s hands,” Traci said. “That’s something that many kids his age aren’t able to experience.”

CRC’s Young Vets Camp offers children ages 11-14 the opportunity to learn about avian medicine and veterinary practices through close encounters with raptors, outdoor adventures and hands-on lessons in the raptor hospital. For Cooper, this camp allows him to engage with his favorite birds – hawks, falcons and eagles – and gives him the chance to explore his dream of becoming a falconer.

Even more important, Traci noted, is CRC’s facility itself. “There are some bird conservation facilities in our new state, but none offer the same environmental education as the Carolina Raptor Center. The other facilities don’t offer the same accessibility and educational opportunities for young birders.”

The Couden family hopes Cooper can stay involved with CRC for years to come, even from out-of-state. “I’m confident,” Traci said, “that Carolina Raptor Center is responsible for this future ornithologist.”


Carolina Raptor Center is one of just a handful of centers dedicated to the conservation of raptors and environmental education in North America. Environmental education is central to CRC’s mission, and an important part of the new campus will be updated facilities that allow the Center to offer improved amenities to the tens of thousands of children who visit each year with their families.

Improved amenities will include a Raptor Trail, an amphitheater and a new, state-of-the-art educational facility with expanded classrooms and wet labs that are ADA accessible, giving more children the rare opportunity to learn about birds and observe their rehabilitation and release up close.

“Our Quest aims to strengthen the center’s commitment to environmental education and these new amenities will allow us to improve the quality of programming for all of our campers,” said Natalie Childers, CRC’s Curator of Birds and Programs. “We want passionate kids like Cooper to come here, learn how to be stewards of their environment and become the next generation of conservation leaders protecting birds of prey.”