Educational raptors get taken very good care of, as they are captive ambassadors for their wild, free-flying relatives. But exposing people to the majesty of birds-of-prey means we have to take the birds to where there are lots of people! A while ago Hawks Aloft took their birds to the New Mexico State Fair. I helped, as we participated in a Science Day. Our “booth” (a couple of tables and the van) was set up on the main outdoor concourse. From 9 to 3, we entertained any and all fairgoers passing by, attempting to throw some education in, too. But the Fair crowd isn’t always easy; people who think hawks are vicious (they ate my chihuahua!) or would make great pets (where can I get one?).
It was a very tiring day, mentally. The Merlin and the Burrowing Owl are still kind of in training for booths, and initially jumped off their perches a lot (“bating”, as it’s called in the raptor world). One of the rules of handling is never to let a bird dangle, so I had a few scratches from scooping up startled birds! Both of them settled down eventually, and did well. Our educator, Kim, is shown with them wow-ing the public!
Another bird was a Mississippi Kite named Mexico. Nothing fazes him. He is one of the most extraordinary raptors I’ve ever worked with. Despite looking like an African Gray parrot (some visitors said a pigeon – how dare they…), he possesses the hooked beak and sharp talons of a meat-eater. But he is so calm, and is responsive to sweet talk. He truly understands when I call him “the handsomest boy ever”. His cheeks swell up and he closes his eyes partway, sucking it all up. He is of the few raptors that it’s safe to handle without gloves, just because he’s so sweet – but not in front of people. We tell the public he’s fierce. Well, he has gotten harder to jess up since he graduated to a larger aviary (I’m a big bird now!).