IN PHOTOS: Guest speakers of a different feather

Neurobiology of Behavior students spent an afternoon up close and personal with avian ambassadors.


Miguel Beristain

Dale Kernahan smiles at Atsha Yatza the Bald Eagle in front of her demonstration in class, as captured on Nov. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Miguel Beristain, Deputy Multimedia Director

I was encouraged to take BSCI 3254 Neurobiology of Behavior class by one of my friends, and after auditing it one day, I was hooked. I’ve always loved learning about animals, which is hard at a school without a zoology program. The class discusses the intricacies of neurobiology through an animal lens. Professor Kenneth Catania is a Guinness World Record holder and has traversed the wilderness handling potentially dangerous wildlife. In the course, he covers fascinating information about animals of all shapes and sizes, coupling his lectures with videos of the creatures that were often taken by him either in the lab or in the field.

On Nov. 8, we were told to arrive early as the doors would need to be barred for a special guest demonstration. But it wasn’t your typical guest speaker: These “speakers” were perfectly engineered flying creatures capable of hearing the heartbeat of a mouse on the forest floor, seeing the tiniest shrew from half a mile away and diving at speeds upwards of 250 miles per hour. Feeling the wind blow through your hair as raptors soar overhead sitting in the same chair you suffered through General Chemistry is an experience.

The birds were brought by Wings to Soar, a non-profit rehabilitation center based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Founders John Stokes and Dale Kernahan care for birds that are unreleasable due to injury or behavioral issues. The center acts as an opportunity for Stokes and Kernahan to share their love of birds, educate others on how magnificent these creatures are and to rally more conservation efforts.

Our avian ambassadors ranged from the small screech owl to the massive bald eagle. Each bird had a name and a story: One was found by hikers inches from death, another hit by a car, one shot by hunters. All of the animals found a second chance at life through the efforts of the Wings to Soar team.

I’ve been to bird shows many times at zoos or wildlife rehabilitation centers. Every time, I’m left with the same feeling of awe at seeing these birds up close. Even then, it’s one thing to have a black headed vulture fly around at a zoo amphitheater and another to have it walk around Stevenson 4309. Thank you to Dr. Catania for making an already unique class that much more memorable.