red tail

The Story of a One-eyed Hawk

I have been a Docent at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for 20 years. Among my activities is the handling of animals and telling visitors about their natural history. I currently handle hawks, falcons, and non-venomous snakes. In the past I have handled owls, American kestrels, and tarantulas.

ASDM recently acquired a young, male, Red-Tailed Hawk from Wild at Heart, an animal rescue organization in Cave Creek, AZ, just north of Phoenix. Wild at Heart’s primary purpose is to rescue injured owls, hawks, falcons and eagles; rehabilitate them; and ultimately release them back into the wild. The hawk was named “Bowie.”

According to Wild at Heart:

Bowie came to us in the early summer of 2015, having been found on the ground in Litchfield Park with his right eye swollen shut. He was already deemed “friendly” by our rescue/transport volunteer. We kept him in our clinic and treated his eye until it was looking normal and put him outside with other juvenile hawks being watched over by some of our foster parent hawks. Bowie was constantly going over to the volunteers when changing the waters or going into the aviary for cleaning. We tried to ignore him as we hoped to release him.

However, after several months, it was very apparent that he was not ever going to get over being habituated. While we were deciding to keep him as an education bird, he developed an eye infection again. Despite getting immediate treatment, both systemic and topical antibiotics prescribed by our veterinarian, his eye did not recover, and slowly began to absorb. We started him on educational bird training, on the glove and perch, and he was doing well for us!

ASDM has a different interpretation of the injury: “The medical information that you quoted from ‘Wild at Heart’ is incorrect. What they told you they did to treat his eye injury, and what we observed when he arrived, was not accurate according to our veterinarians. It is not medically possible for an eye to ‘absorb.’ He had orbital bone fractures that were never treated.”

The photo above shows me holding Bowie at the Museum entrance. Bowie is the first Red-Tailed Hawk that Docents have had the privilege of handling. He is estimated to be about two-years old based on his plumage. Average life span in the wild is about 10-20 years depending on source quoted, but they can live much longer with proper care. For instance, I handle a 22-year-old Harris’ Hawk which the staff has named “Grumpy.” He is my favorite bird.

A one-eyed hawk can’t make a living in the wild because it lacks the binocular vision necessary for navigation and hunting. This one is lucky because he now has a good job, free from the dangers and travails of the wild. He has free room and board and a good medical plan.

We Docents, and most falconers, hold birds on our gloved left fist and the birds face forward. Bowie, however, stands facing backwards so he can keep his eye on me. And since he stands backwards, he displays his red tail. He is able to turn his head far enough to face forward when someone comes by.

When not out on the grounds, Bowie, and other birds, occupy padded perches in the Interpretive Animal Collection building. He is in the same room with several other birds including a Harris’ Hawk, a Crested Cara Cara, several American Kestrels, a large parrot, and people. He has access to water, food, and toys. I’ve had him out on the grounds three times so far. He has been well-behaved and unafraid.

A general note: In the many years I’ve been handling snakes, I have not been bitten. I have, however, been wounded by hawk talons. When the birds are startled, such as by running, yelling young children, they can grab on tightly enough so that their strong, sharp talons penetrate the glove or the birds may go up my unprotected arm. Parents, please control the kids.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Related Articles:

Red Tailed Hawk, the natural history of these hawks

Harris’ Hawks

Crested Caracara

American Kestrel