Our female Swainson's Hawk, who has been with us since 1991, is nearly royalty. She came to us after being found on the ground in Arapaho Wildlife Refuge near Waldon, CO, as a first-year bird. Most likely, she had been hit by a car. She sustained a fracture of the right metacarpus (wrist and hand areas) and a had a head tilt (known as torticollis). Through rehabilitation, the head tilt resolved. Unfortunately, the fracture in her metacarpus left her non-flighted.
Being a first year bird when she came in, she adapted pretty well to life in captivity. She travels to schools and outreach events to educate thousands of people a year. She also is one of the birds that volunteers learn to handle when they begin handling hawks. She, mostly, is patient and allows them to learn the fine details and skills needed to safely take her out to events and programs. However, when it is feeding time, she also tests the new handlers to make sure they have quick reflexes and good handling and feeding skills.
In spite of being over 25 years old, she still feels comfortable enough to lay eggs every year. This is a big compliment to the care she receives at the RMRP because birds do not lay eggs when they are stressed but rather when they feel secure. When the egg-laying part of the year comes up, we have to pay special attention to her weight for signs that she is starting to lay her first egg and keep an eye on her brooding behavior (like piling sticks into a nest).
We monitor her closely because at her old age, we want to make sure there are no health issues. After all, laying eggs can be a huge metabolic drain on the body. She has developed a very trusting relationship with many of her caretakers. These volunteers and staff members act as the other "parent" once she begins laying eggs. The human substitute sits in her enclosure next to her eggs several times throughout the day so that she can get up, stretch her legs, and use the bathroom. Then she comes back, lays on her nest, and the human is allowed to leave the enclosure.
After egg laying, she is a foster parent for orphaned baby Swainson's Hawks that need a role model to imprint upon. By feeding them and being there for them to look at, she teaches them what they are and how they should act. She will often feed them and protects them when the scary human predators come into the enclosure. She teaches them how to be Swainson's Hawks.
Because of her age (average life span in the wild might be about 12-15 years), she mostly works close to home these days—that is, when she is not on maternity leave. She will travel to Fort Collins education presentations and other events around Fort Collins. The best thing about her is that even though she has been in captivity for mostly her whole life, equaling over two decades, she still has the wild in her. When she sees other hawks flying around her territory, she screams to warn them away. No doubt she would chase the interloper away if she had the capability. She is truly the queen of the RMRP.