Hawks Aloft in New Mexico holds monthly Raptor Handling Class. Volunteers that are interested in helping out at educational event booths learn to work with hawks and other birds of prey on jesses. We bring the easier birds to handle. Note that easier doesn’t always mean small! Aztec, the Great Horned Owl pictured here with Keith, is rock solid, and allows pretty much anyone to hold her.
But there are always participants who are TERRIFIED, no matter what! Such as one young man who held Aztec. He was so tense that she picked up on it, and the owl that patiently stood for a dozen people opened her wings and “danced” up his arm. He thought he was going to get gangrene from a tiny scrape she left on his skin! I told him to call us if his arm fell off.
All of the Educational Ambassador birds are rescues from the wild, and are non-releasable for various reasons. For example, Quemado the Red-tailed Hawk has a broken wing.
I’m including some artistic shots from home. Can you find the horse in the clouds? And I don’t mind sharing garden veggies with nibblers as pretty as this swallowtail butterfly caterpillar.
Cooper’s Hawks continue to dominate my transects. At one, there is a marsh, usually very active with birdlife. As I approached, I was struck by the silence. I scared up some mallards and wood ducks, but then noticed an adult Coop sitting quietly on a dead tree. Imagine my surprise when a juvenile whizzed by, chasing a screaming green heron! A bird bigger than him! Of course he was unsuccessful, staring glumly at the patch of cattails his prey disappeared into. At least the marauding got me a bird I knew was there, but hadn’t been able to pick up. An alarmed Sora cried out while one of the juvenile Coops was flushing other birds. A pair of Pied-billed Grebes ignored the chaos.
Later I re-found the Peregrine Falcon I saw on a previous transect. He attacked a Northern Flicker I was admiring, but didn’t get him! As I walked past, this nervous nelly almost flew, but as you can see from the picture decided I wasn’t that scary.
On my last route of the week, it was quiet, but walking back to my car I saw a Mississippi Kite perched over the path. Talk about stoic! He didn’t seem to give a darn that I was directly under him, snapping photos like a raptor paparazzi!
Last but not least, the monsoon storms have been bringing some indescribably beautiful skies to the Sandia Mountains!
Keep watching nature, you never know what will turn up!
Taking a bit of a different tack this week. I found some pictures from a raptor rehabilitation center I volunteered for in Arizona. Wild at Heart (http://wildatheartowls.org/) does rescue and rehabilitation for injured and orphaned raptors (birds of prey) in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I was privileged to volunteer for them for a few years. One of the most important things they do is relocate Burrowing Owls.
These amazing birds actually live underground, and that is what gets them in trouble. When new construction is planned, in a previously untouched place, the owls are in danger of getting smooshed in their burrows by the excavation and heavy equipment. Luckily, this is illegal, and companies must contract through a company like WAH to safely remove the owls and relocate them. But these little buggers know where home is, and if released, would fly right back into danger. They must be held for 60 days to break their “site loyalty”. During this time, they are fed and cared for by the amazing staff there. Also during this time, new burrows are being dug in safe areas (such as native reservations), so the owls have a home to go to once their time is up. They may not seem grateful, but whenever I cleaned their aviaries, these frightened owls would often land on me as if I were part of the perching! I could just lift them off me and place them out of the way. If you can’t tell, they are my favorite owl. I have some terrific pictures of babies, because WAH will even take eggs they find in the burrows, and incubate them until they hatch. Every owl counts!
Also included are some baby pictures of Great Horned Owl fledglings. Owls are terrific parents, and foster pairs at WAH will take on as many orphans as you can give them! That way, they grow up knowing they are owls, and not people.
I received a request to assist in a release of a Kestrel that was found out on the Navajo reservation. Although we didn’t have anything to do with the rescue, the rehabilitator was frustrated with trying to connect with the people who found it, so she could return it back to where it came from. So I was asked to “handle it” due to my diplomatic skills (! This for the person with social anxiety issues…). Well, I ended up driving the Kestrel 50 miles to the Tohajiilee Pueblo, and the whole Native family showed up for the release! They were all very nice, and concerned for the little falcon they called “Lucky”. There was obviously much anthropomorphizing. But in a good way. I’m used to birds of prey rocketing away as soon as their box is opened, but this little Kestrel just sat, looking wide-eyed at us. She even let “Violet”, her rescuer, and her boyfriend pet her (I allowed it, since the Kestrel did). All of a sudden she rose into the sky, and never have I seen a released bird revel so much in the joys of flight! She had been picked up as a fledgling, and learned to fly in an aviary. She made up for it that day! Figure eights, soaring, diving – it was incredible to watch. The only thing I regret is not getting any pictures!
Later that week, I was checking on a late Cooper’s Hawk nest in the Bosque. This pair of sub-adult parents took so long to nest that all the other Cooper’s in the Bosque had already fledged! So we were concerned for the survival of the two late chicks. But I found one kid, begging loudly on the edge of the nest. As I sat and watched, a flock of Bushtits moved in and surrounded me. Suddenly, their normal “squeaky toy” noises were replaced by an incredibly musical susseration of whistles – I knew something had changed. Then one of the parent Cooper’s Hawks flew through the flock! Since the little gray micro-birds were on alert, not one was harmed. I have mixed feelings; as much as I hate seeing cute little birds get taken by a hawk, I don’t want that ungainly hawk chick to starve, either!
A Common Yellowthroat posed very nicely for me, and I also had another, more down to earth creature on the path –