Monday, September 10, 2012

A day in the life of Squeaky the hawk lure

Posted by: Gretchen Albrecht, Raptor Keeper

It’s me, Squeaky. Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

Hi, I’m Squeaky the squirrel. I work at Woodland Park Zoo’s Raptor Center as a hawk lure. It’s been a busy summer for me. I thought you might enjoy hearing about my job.

8:00 a.m. - Time to get up. I rest with two other lures, the “dummy bunny” used for the ferruginous hawk and golden eagle, and a swing lure used for the Aplomado falcon (it is supposed to look like a bird).  Obviously I am the cutest!

Chillin’ with the dummy bunny and swing lure. Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lures are an important part of training a raptor to safely free fly. The lure usually represents the raptor’s natural prey. After getting a meal or two on the lure a raptor is generally pretty keen to fly to it since the lure means food. Flying to a lure is a lot more fun than flying to a trainer’s glove so a lure is often used when a raptor has gone off course and is perched in an unfamiliar location where it may be uncomfortable.

Mornings are busy around the Raptor Center with lots of cleaning and preparing the birds for the flight program. I watch the activity from my shelf.

Hello, Gunnar! Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

11:30 a.m. - Time for me to go to work! A keeper ties a piece of mouse meat to my back. This is a reward for the red-tailed hawk, Gunnar, who swoops down and grabs me. I am taken to the presentation yard and hidden under a black tub so Gunnar doesn’t see me prematurely.

11:45 a.m. - The pre-show music starts. It’s almost show time.

My co-star, Gunnar, in flight. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Noon - The show begins. This summer I am working with the red-tailed hawk, Gunnar, who is second in the line-up. Last summer I worked with the Harris’s Hawk, Cisco. He would fly out of the big maple tree and grab me. He really liked to squeeze me with his feet. This summer Cisco flies before Gunnar and sometimes he comes down to look for me under the fake rock. He remembers his routine from last summer; he is a very smart hawk!

Cisco the Harris’s hawk. He just can’t forget me. Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

12:05 p.m. – It’s my turn! I am pulled out from under the tub by the keeper. Gunnar swoops over the audience and grabs me with his feet—WHAM! He likes to jump around with me in his feet and pluck at my fur as he looks for his piece of mouse meat.

Gunnar pins me with his talons. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. That someone is always me, it seems. Photo by Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sometimes he pulls out my stuffing by mistake—ouch! After Gunnar has eaten the meat, the keeper tosses him another piece of mouse as a trade for me. As Gunnar runs off to get the mouse meat, I am quickly hidden behind the keeper’s back and stashed under the fake rock.

Pulling out my stuffing. Photo by Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo.

12:07 p.m. - Sometimes Gunnar flies into the trees instead of off to the keeper. I get pulled out again and Gunnar gets excited. WHAM! He grabs me again. Gunnar loves me!

This is what happens when Gunnar loves you. Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

12:30 p.m. - The show is over and it’s time for a break. I get to rest inside and we have lunch.

Gunnar takes a break from flying. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

1:30 p.m. - It’s time to get ready for the 2:00 p.m. show. Let’s do it all over again!

I take some time out to train the new guy. Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo.

The raptor flight programs run through the end of September, Wednesdays – Mondays at noon and 2:00 p.m.  Come by and see me in action. I noticed a new squirrel in the office the other day. It looks like this may be my last summer. I will miss the hawks when I retire.

3 comments:

  1. Have a great retirement, Squeaky! <3

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  2. What a cute blog post! Keep up the good work squeaky!

    ReplyDelete