HawkWatch After Dark

24 June 2021

Now that temperatures are rising and the summer solstice has come, a few changes need to be made to our Raptor Ambassador care. We have three owl Raptor Ambassadors, and being nocturnal means that they operate on a different schedule. Melissa Halvorsen, our Education and Outreach Director is giving you the inside scoop on what happens at HawkWatch International after dark...

Most raptors hunt and are active during the day. In fact, the famous sharp vision of diurnal raptors evolved to be most useful during times of bright light. While an eagle or a vulture can see distant objects with much greater detail than a human during the day, once the sun sets and the light fades, humans can actually see better than many birds of prey! This is why falconers put hoods on their birds to keep them calm. Due to the lack of clear sight, these daytime hunters naturally become still and cautious in the dark.

Of course, nature finds an exception to every rule. There are nocturnal raptors with excellent low-light vision that have evolved to hunt during nighttime hours: owls. Owls are able to live in the same ecosystems as diurnal raptors because they, and their prey, are active at different times of the day. This is one way two species of raptors can share the same space without directly competing for the same resources at the same time.

Although our Raptor Ambassadors at HawkWatch International live in captivity, they are still wild animals that maintain wild characteristics. One of the ways we accommodate their needs is by feeding our owls in the evening during the summer. We do this because owls tend to eat their food at night under the cover of darkness. Placing their food out nearer to their instinctual feeding time helps encourage natural behaviors. Second, we feed our Raptor Ambassadors dead prey, and their food is subject to the same environmental conditions that humans face when eating outdoors. Just like you probably shouldn't eat that bowl of potato salad that has been sitting in the sun for six hours, we want to ensure that our birds are eating their food while it is still fresh and free of harmful bacteria or other contaminants. While our diurnal raptors usually start eating their food as soon as we give it to them, our owls tend to wait, so evening feeding helps ensure their diet is safe to eat. In winter, this isn't as much of an issue because cold temperatures keep food fresher longer and the daylight fades much earlier. 

Hopefully, this provides a little peek into all the things that go into taking the best possible care of our Raptor Ambassadors. There isn't a day that goes by when our team isn't thinking or talking about the wellbeing of the birds. You can help care for our birds too by buying their dinner! With a donation of $5, we can serve up 5 mice. For $10 we can add 5 quail to the menu. To make your contribution and support our Raptor Ambassadors click the link: https://hawkwatch.org/component/civicrm/?task=civicrm/contribute/transact&reset=1&id=5

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