Did you know that a Hawk’s eyes darken with age ? I didn’t know this until I met a Red-tail Hawk named Vanessa. She had dark golden-brown eyes and was proudly perched on her handler’s arm, seemingly little concerned that she had an audience. Her eyes were piercing and when she gifted me with her gaze I could not move. A Red-tail hawk and I were literally eye to eye. I learned that she was about 13 years old and that her wings were permanently broken.
My adopted family had treated me to a trip to the State Fair in Albuquerque. Several groups had booths along the main walkway to the exhibits. This group, “Talking Talons”, was promoting wildlife education through the use of birds and reptiles who had either been injured or had been hand raised and could not be released into the wild. Even more unique about this group was that school children did the teaching to their peers, not the adults. I wanted to be a part of this so with Vanessa’s eyes still on me, I signed up as a volunteer.
For about 3 months I joined Talking Talons at various events, including Festival of the Cranes at Bosque Del Apache in Socorro, to help promote the program. I learned how to handle snakes and, my favorite, two Big Brown bats who had been donated to the group from the Georgia Zoo. A falconer’s license was required to handle Vanessa, so I just enjoyed being in her presence as I watched the awe in others who, like myself, were captured by her eyes.
Another favorite participant in the program was an American Kestrel named Nutty Buddy. Unlike the other birds in the program, Nutty was not injured but he had imprinted on humans and could not be safely released. He liked landing on people’s heads and really set up a ruckus whenever someone showed up hiding their head under a hat.
This chapter of my New Mexico life took place in 1991. Talking Talons was started in 1988 so was still fairly young when I met them. I am very happy to say that the organization still exists. In addition to continuing youth educational programs they also operate a Thrift Store in Cedar Crest, NM. Their mission remains, “To elevate youth and the community to become effective advocates and ethical stewards of themselves, wildlife, habitats and the environment.” I feel so fortunate to have crossed paths and spent time with this group and I will never forget that close up encounter with the eyes of a Hawk.