Jackson, Wyo. • In every single image on his Facebook profile, Bryan Bedrosian shares the frame with a bird. The photographs find him posing behind the outstretched wings of an eagle, clutching a raven by its tail feathers, cradling an owl in both arms.
The man loves his avians. For nearly two decades he's studied the creatures that cruise the skies above Jackson Hole, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and beyond, since 2015 as the research director at the Teton Raptor Center. With an almost single-minded devotion — "Even if we're not doing research, I'm always thinking about it" — he strives to understand birds in the name of protecting them.
"Every day being able to provide a voice for these amazing animals is awesome," he said. "This is the best job in the world."
As early as second grade Bedrosian knew he wanted to be a scientist. But growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, where he was the first person in his extended family to even go camping, he had next to no idea his work would one day consist of scaling trees, rappelling into eagle's nests and roaming the wilderness for weeks at a time in search of elusive owls.
Once he made it to college, at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he began volunteering in the chemistry and genetics labs. While he and another student were isolating DNA samples one day, his companion described the boots-on-the-ground labor involved in collecting the samples, and Bedrosian resolved to find his way out of the lab and into the field.
Soon after, he learned of a professor studying Cooper's hawks, and offered to help.
"That was kind of the beginning of the end," he said.
After graduation he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Emily Curran Bedrosian moved to Jackson Hole. She taught at Teton Science Schools, and Bedrosian came knocking at the door of Craighead Beringia South often enough that the wildlife research institute let him study raven ecology there for his master's. It didn't take long to realize he'd found his calling.
"The ever-changing nature of what we need to do is really engaging," he said. "There's no monotony at all. Every day is something new. Figuring out how to catch ravens and eagles and owls is such a fun puzzle."
Sometimes it's a puzzle for which a few pieces are missing. Over the years Bedrosian, a consummate tinkerer, has often crafted the tools he needs when the existing options don't meet his standards.
As he spoke in his office in Jackson — the walls of which are adorned with no fewer than five photographs of great grey owls, his favorite nighttime raptor — Bedrosian held up a solar-powered transmitter the size of a matchbox, used to track birds over great lengths of time, for example to chart migration corridors.
"This unit cost $4,000," he said. "And I was like, 'Yeah, I know there's only $200 of components in here.'"
So he made his own, eventually saving tens of thousands of dollars. The same goes for a self-designed audio recorder, which he uses to map habitat by capturing the calls of all species in an area. He now sells those to other researchers, along with a remote net launcher for catching birds.
As efficient as these innovations are, though, Bedrosian fears they distance scientists from their subjects. With the technology of today, he said, it's sometimes possible for students to receive their master's studying an animal they've never seen.
"We try not to be armchair ecologists," he said. "There's something to be said about spending eight hours with an animal and seeing what it's doing."
He admits that his own field-to-lab ratio has shifted over the years. When he first arrived in Jackson, Bedrosian spent nearly all his time outdoors — before he could analyze data, he had to gather it. But 20 years on, with a stockpile of information on the region's raptors, he's duty-bound to more computer time.
He still has the migration and breeding seasons, during which he and his colleagues live among their feathered friends for weeks on end. And now, in his off time, he has two young children to introduce to the wonderful world of birds. Just last week he helped his son, Oliver, start his birding life list with a hooded merganser sighting on Flat Creek. His daughter Alice, 4, isn’t far behind.
"Oliver's 5, and he probably knows more bird species than 90 percent of the people in this town," Bedrosian said, laughing. "They're getting a pretty good field experience for some toddlers."
And of course, his data crunching is the fulfillment of years of dedicated work. The goal was always to amass intelligence on where and how birds live and travel, and in turn help wildlife managers make sound decisions on how to handle the creatures — to influence "what our actions are as a species toward these birds."
That knowledge is particularly crucial, he noted, when applied in one of the last intact ecosystems in the lower 48. For example, he's working to change U.S. Forest Service protocols for great grey owls and goshawks here and across the West.
“It’s taken over a decade to be able to be in a position to kind of move the needle with management, but now that we’re here, that’s the rewarding factor,” Bedrosian said. “Even if we as one organization move that needle a little bit, I call it a success.”