Alum’s career takes flight at avian center

Ben Montgomery ’04When Ben Montgomery ’04 was at Wheaton, he had not pinpointed his exact career plans, but he knew what he wanted.

“I wanted to do something that felt like it mattered and something a little thrilling. I knew I would spend the majority of my life at ‘work,’ so I didn’t want it to just be about a paycheck; I would die of boredom,” said Montgomery, who majored in biology with a concentration in ecology and environmental science.

He has found both purpose and excitement at the Raptor Trust, one of the largest and most respected wild-bird rehabilitation and conservation centers in the United States, where he is the property manager and an educator. As an educator, he conducts programs on raptors and avian conservation for schools, clubs, scouts and the thousands of visitors who come to the New Jersey–based facility each year. As the property manager he builds and maintains 81 aviaries totaling over 300,000 cubic feet of flight space, and monitors all non-medical equipment, supplies and tools as well as the food used for the raptors. He also assists senior medical personnel in providing care for all birds. Currently, there are about 60 permanently disabled hawks, eagles and owls of 20 different species at the trust, in addition to the roughly 3,500 individual birds that receive care each year.

Montgomery’s experience at the trust dates back to long before he was hired for a paid, full-time position in 2006. He had worked there for three summers while at Wheaton. (Wheaton Trustee Nancy Pearlstine Conger ’67 and her husband, Bill, a trustee at the Raptor Trust, have recently established a dedicated internship there for Wheaton students through the Filene Center.)

“I was drawn to the nonprofit sector because I want to work in an industry that focuses on a mission. I have loved nature my entire life. Now I get to teach others, and kids in particular, about respecting nature. And every day here is like being on the set for one of those discovery nature shows.”

In fact, Montgomery has been featured on TV and in several newspaper articles over the years, including in a story about him diving into a reservoir on a 30-degree December day a couple of years ago to rescue a lead-poisoned bald eagle that would have drowned.

Recently, he was in the news worldwide after there was a break-in at the trust and a federally protected screech owl was stolen. He did media interviews to try to get the word out, hoping that someone would help with the return of the bird. The media blitz worked. “The bird was returned by someone who ultimately wanted to do the right thing,” he said.

He credits Wheaton professors John Kricher (biology) and Jeffrey Timm (religion) for helping him discover his career path. “John Kricher helped me understand the ‘art’ of nature in ecology, and he always encouraged students to think creatively that way. Jeffrey Timm let me take a senior seminar in a subject that wasn’t my major or minor. I had exposure to information, ideas and experiences in his class that had a profound impact on me and continue to influence my life today.”

He recently began working on a second master’s degree in business. “With my other master’s degree in education, my science degree from Wheaton, and my enthusiasm for being involved, I would love to continue to remain connected to my community and advocate for wildlife as I grow in my current position. I would also like to eventually branch out and help other nonprofit businesses, and maybe someday even start my own.”