Guest post by Dan Weisz
I have been volunteering weekly for three years now with the Raptor Free Flight program at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Our “season” ends this Sunday, so I went to the Desert Museum on Monday to be a typical guest. Below are a few of my photos from that morning.
This Spiny-tailed Iguana was sunning itself near the Bighorn Sheep exhibit. I was told that these iguanas live on islands in the Gulf of California. They either escaped or were released on the grounds of the Desert Museum and have thrived on the property but they have not spread into the desert beyond. Apparently the permanent water at the Desert Museum keeps them ‘home’.
The reason I was near that iguana was that I came to see the newborn Bighorn Sheep baby. This little one was born Saturday and on my Monday visit, was scampering around capably.
A close-up of her face!
Raptor Free Flight is an extraordinary demonstration of Southwestern birds of prey flying in the open desert. It is simply breath-taking. https://www.desertmuseum.org/visit/rff_index.php
Below is the Gray Hawk, a tropical bird that we see in Southern Arizona as about 200 pairs migrate here from Mexico annually to breed and raise their young. They live in riparian areas along the San Pedro and Santa Cruz Rivers and their tributaries, and along the southern Sky Island mountains.
The Great Horned Owl coming in for a landing: Great Horned Owls are the apex predator of the night skies and are the most common owl across the United States.
Great Horned Owls use their feet and talons as their killing tools. Their toes are as long as our fingers and those needle-sharp talons puncture their prey using the owl’s grip strength of 500 pounds per square inch. If the talons don’t kill you, the constriction will. The owl’s feet are feathered to protect them from the desperate bites of their prey.
The Harris’s Hawks are one of the highlights of Raptor Free Flight. They hunt in a group, acting like a pack of winged and feathered wolves.
A Harris’s Hawk coming in for a “glove call” by our lead trainer Amanda. Tipping their bodies vertically helps to stall the fast flight and allows the hawk to land softly.
Harris’s Hawks are able to hunt in a family group through the use of a strong hierarchal family structure. This lets each hawk know their place in the family pecking order and helps to reduce family squabbles, allowing the birds to focus on hunting cooperatively. This photo demonstrates that family hierarchy in action. The one bird on the saguaro is about to be “supplanted” by the incoming bird whose message is “I’m your big brother and I’m taking your spot right now! Move it!” The bird atop the saguaro flew off obediently just before the approaching hawk landed.
A soaring Harris’s Hawk.
During Monday’s demo, our raptors were joined by a wild Black Vulture who came in to see what was going on. Often during spring migration season wild birds will fly through the demo site and interact with our birds. This happens during fall migration as well. Black Vultures differ from the more common Turkey Vultures in the color of their under-wings and the color of their head. While Turkey Vultures have a great sense of smell and can locate carrion from miles away, black vultures to not have the sense of smell. But they have great eyes and they watch what their cousins the Turkey Vultures are doing and tag along for the free food.
Upon leaving the Desert Museum at the “tail end” of my visit, I spotted another wild spiny-tailed iguana near its usual sunning spot. It ducked into the gate post to hide from me. Apparently, it could no longer see me from this position so it felt safe!