My feelings for Isham were based initially on my feelings for red-tailed hawks in the wild. Being the most common soaring hawk in North America, I frequently see red-tailed hawks in my daily life. Often, I see them perched upon power poles near our house, where they wait and watch for small prey in the fields below them. Red-tailed hawks have excellent vision, being able to spot a small mouse from 1,000 feet in the air. We must have a lot of mice and voles for this predator to feast on, as sometimes one will visit our fields daily, patiently sitting for hours on a pole. A red-tailed hawk may eat 4 mice a day, which means that they may eat over 1,400 mice each year! And, for every female mouse it eats, that means no more litters of tiny little baby mice! These birds are great pest controllers! Having these wonderful raptors as a frequent part of my life, has increased my appreciation for these beautiful birds, so that they had become one of my favorite raptors, even before I became a bird handler for the Draper Museum Raptor Experience.
Even so, Isham has a special place in my heart, as he was the first of our birds that I held on my glove. On my first day of training, lesson one was how to tie the proper knot when securing a bird to my glove. Next, Melissa Hill, my mentor and trainer, taught me how to hand off a bird to another person. Then to my complete AMAZEMENT and DELIGHT Melissa actually passed Isham, our red-tailed hawk to me! WOW, this was my first real day with the birds, and I had never expected to hold a live bird on my glove that day! What a thrill, just to look at that bird sitting on MY GLOVE! A real red-tailed hawk, like those I had admired for a number of years with my scope, binoculars, and through my car windshield. I then passed him to Melissa, and she passed him back. We did this a number of times. I stood with him on my glove for about 12 – 15 minutes each time. I couldn’t believe that I was actually holding a red-tailed hawk. What an amazingly perfect day! I went home with my feet floating off the ground! I had found something so special, I couldn’t even describe my feelings.
After working with him for almost a year now, I still feel a sense of wonder when seeing Isham on my glove. Having said this, however, I have no understanding of Isham’s feelings. Of all our birds, he is the one who behaves in the most ambiguous way toward me. Sometimes when I go in to pick him up, he flies or jumps away from me, yet, when I take a hold of even one of his jesses, (those little leather straps that swing from his leather anklets) and say “Step up,” he does a couple of little hops right onto my glove. This little hop-hop dance use to cause me to think he was going to bate (try to fly off my glove, only to be jerked back), but I have learned that he simply likes to do the hop-hop before he settles down to a calm stand upon my glove, where he usually remains, with no fuss or bother at all, until I return him to his mew.
Once in a while, however, he will perform the hop-hop as we stand waiting for his turn in the limelight, especially if we are outside and the grackles are taunting him. At this time he will often throw in a pirouette or two for added interest and variety. Too many pirouettes, and I now have the task of untangling his jesses. Thanks, Isham. And it isn’t just me that he does the hop-hop dance for, he performs this for all of us. Despite missing his right eye, Isham is a very handsome, and regal fellow, much like a little prince, overseeing his realm. And thus he stands, upon my glove, stately and sedate, as visitors admire him, and his beautiful rusty colored tail. And me? I find him to be the perfect gentleman, even though he shows very little interest in me. And each time he stands upon my glove, I always feel compelled to tell him, “You are such a good boy.” He will then turn his head, and make eye contact with me. I swear he is thinking, “Of course I am.”
Question from visitors:
“Is that an eagle?”
I have been asked this at least three times while holding Isham on my glove. It may seem like a silly question, but for people who have had no experience with raptors, this can easily be confusing for them. By eagle, they don’t mean bald eagles, as they are familiar with what our national symbol looks like. Golden eagles, are a much larger bird than hawks. As a size comparison, the golden eagle weights an average of around 8 – 10 pounds, and has a 6 – 7 foot wing span. A red-tailed hawk averages around three pounds, and has just over a four foot wing span. Most, although not all, red-tailed hawks over the age of two, also have the rusty or brick colored red tail that they are named for. Eagles and hawks are the same, however, in that they are all from the same scientific order, Accipitriformes.
So Isham, are you insulted, or flattered? All I know is that you are still standing in a stately pose upon my glove.