Working Birds

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?). cimmaron the rough legged hawk

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!

at the fair

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!).

mexi the mississippi kite

Bye bye Birdies!

I am getting to the end of my routine patrols, and the mosquitoes are finally getting under control. I got to see some of the members of the beaver family again on Monday’s route.    It was otherwise pretty quiet, except for a lot of people on the trail. After I heard a brief begging cry from a far away Cooper’s Hawk, a woman told me excitedly that she heard an eagle down the path! I took the time to explain what it was, and my imitation of the call convinced her.

beaver breakfast

On my second transect, I almost couldn’t count all the hummingbirds! There were literally hundreds of them, and many zoomed right up to my face (probably due to my purple hat). I had the privilege of watching a lady hummer delicately bathing in the drops of dew on the leaves of a Russian olive tree. Couldn’t get a picture of her, but a few others cooperated! Otherwise it was quiet, probably due to the continued presence of the hunting Cooper’s Hawk family. One of the Green Herons they’d been terrorizing decided I was a lesser threat, and posed for multiple pictures! Later I spied two Roadrunners ahead of me on the path, posing on a branch. I always enjoy seeing them, New Mexico’s state bird, no matter how often! black chinned hummer and mallow roadrunners

My last transect, on Thursday, was so peaceful. I had the luxury of really taking my time, enjoying all the little sights around me. A cicada casing glowed orange in the sunrise; a small flock of mixed warblers migrating through the bushes, and tracing animal tracks in the soft dirt of the path. Of course, I had to check out a big pile of steamy fresh bird poo. The X-shaped tracks revealed it to be from my friends, the Roadrunners! Their cuckoo footprint, with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards, led Native Americans to believe the wily bird was trying to trick them by disguising whether it was coming or going!

cicada casing at sunrise green heron