Friday, August 16, 2013

Wolves Of The Sky

If ever there was a bird that’s all business, it’s Tequila! 

As I was leaving the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center after a day of volunteering in the office, I happened to venture into the amphitheater as two of our naturalists were giving one of our Harris’ Hawk fliers its daily exercise.  At the end of every day two of our naturalist/trainers exercise our flying performers by taking them out on stage and flying them between the two staff members.  Of course, the bird knows that there is a treat of tasty rat meat at the end of each flight. 

Even though there are treats involved, some of the birds aren’t as quick to respond to the trainer’s cue as this one was.  I wasn’t sure which bird this was (since to me all Harris’ Hawks look pretty much alike), but I was mesmerized by its concentration and intensity.  No sooner would she land on the trainer’s glove and devour the treat than she would be ready for the return trip.  The bird sat on the trainer’s glove like a coiled spring, anticipating the next cue from the other trainer.  After the flying session was over I discovered that this spot-on performer was Tequila, one of our veteran fliers.

Harris’ Hawks are unusual in the raptor world in that they are not lone hunters.  Due to scarcity of day-active prey in their desert environment a family will work together cooperatively (somewhat like a wolf pack) to hunt and capture prey. 

One bird will land on the very top of a Saguaro cactus, and then another will land on top of that bird and another on top of that one until they are stacked as much as three or four high.  Hence, the name for this behavior—stacking! 

From this vantage point, and with many sets of eyes scanning the desert, any movement on the desert floor could signal the presence of a prey animal. Watching Tequila’s intensity I could only imagine what it must feel like to be a prey animal (mouse, rat, rabbit, etc.) when these wolves of the sky are on the hunt. 

Over the years I have attempted to photograph many of our Harris’ Hawks in flight, but in my opinion they are one of the most difficult to capture—digitally or on film.  Their speed in flight is amazing.  However, this particular day some of Tequila’s concentration must have rubbed off on me as I did manage to get several acceptable photos of this brown dynamo. 

If you would like to see Tequila in action join us for Birds in Concert any Thursday night in August.  Tequila and a number of our other performing animals will light up our stage, along with our in-house band, The Raptor Project.  In addition to our birds and The Raptor Project, each Birds in Concert features a different guest performer. 

Where else can you find entertainment featuring live music, guest artists, and flying birds--and all for FREE!

Birds in Concert Information
When:              Every Thursday in August
Time:              7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Where:              The World Bird Sanctuary amphitheater
                        125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road
                        Valley Park, MO 63088

Bring your family, friends and picnics.  Food will also be available from our snack table.

For the safety of our animals and other guests, no pets please.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

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