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Harris Hawk Goes For Cockatoo

Now here is a dramatic video! As a bird handler, you have a tremendous responsibility of keeping the bird safe while you are working with the public.  If all goes well, it’s a great educational tool.  If all does not go well…it can be a disaster for the birds and for the audience. Here is a video from a live bird show at the Los Angeles Zoo which incorporates both birds of prey and, well prey. This is a nighmare situation where the bird handler’s quick thinking saved the life of a cockatoo:

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I watched that with both fascination and horror. On the one hand, to see how quickly the Harris hawk dives in is cool, but as a bird handler, that is an intense situation. I wish I could see a copy of the video without the dramatic special editing. But, here is what I see and here is why that handler is a pro and was able to save the cockatoo.

She works with that cockatoo enough, that she knows when the bird is nervous and that something else has its attention. Typically, when I work with birds of prey, when they look up, there’s a raptor–sometimes just a pepper speck to my eyes. That trainer, noticed that the cockatoo looked up and exhibited fear, she was smart enough to look up and realize that their other program bird, a Harris hawk wasn’t far overhead.

As soon as the hawk dove, she blocks the cockatoo by covering it with her body–I can’t imagine the amount of pain and to have it done in front of a crowd. If you get a glimpse at her face, you can tell that it hurt. Besides, the grasping talons of the Harris hawk, I wonder of the cockatoo bit her to either get balance or out of fear? Owie, owie, owie! I’m not sure which would be worse, I can’t imagine both at the same time.

I found the full video on Animal Planet’s website and they interview Lauren, than handler in the video.  Interesting, despite the sensationalized editing.  Again, her quick thinking and knowledge of her birds’ behavior kept that live show from becoming an unfortunate bloody lesson on animal behavior.

10 comments to Harris Hawk Goes For Cockatoo

  • Many times I have been hanging around with some ducks and caught them looking skyward. I follow their gaze and always saw a hawk way up high. I always pay attention to birds, they can and do show you more than you expect.

  • Great video Sharon. The worst I’ve had to deal with is slipping on ice with a raptor. I can’t imagine being attacked by another bird during a program. Hopefully the Harris Hawk’s talons were at least somewhat clipped. There is a world of difference (or at least should be) between the talons of an education bird and those of a wild bird.

    On a side note: Hey, two Kirk’s posting in a row!

  • Yikes! I’m glad my raptor programs at Cape May were mostly under the picnic pavilion’s canopy.

  • That’s amazing. Glad she acted so quickly to protect the cockatoo. When I go on walks with my cat and dog, I noticed my cat letting out a growling meow & running toward me when she hears a red-tailed hawk overhead. Maybe she knows I will protect her.

  • Larry Sheldon

    No offense to anybody meant, but but how in the world can trained people let a situation like that set up?

    I recall a story (not verified by me-I googled and came up empty) about the Henry Doorly Zoo introducing Toucans into one of its dome exhibits.

    And then had to trouble-shoot where all the lizards in the same display were going to.

    Did they think Toucans ate Frootloops?

  • Karen

    Wow. That had to be insanely painful. I’ve had one of my hens miscalculate when flying off their roost and hit me in the head and it was like getting hit with a sack of rocks. The combination of speed, talons, and weight must have been excruciating.
    Thank heavens she acted quickly.

  • Larry,

    when you work with wild animals, not matter how much training, mishaps happen. In the longer video, the zoo said that the Harris was able to undo its latch.

    I’ve heard of the toucan situation before.

  • Owwww! The force of that dive into the back of the neck – wow!
    No offense to the Animal Planet folks, but dial back the cheese factor a bit. The program seems aimed at a young audience, but how about showing some real world hunting footage of hawks rather than the pointless CGI recreation?
    Very cool that the Harris was able to make a break for his snack – think he had been waiting for the golden opportunity ala “The Great Escape” or “Hogan’s Heros”? Nice find.

  • Now that I’ve watched the longer video I think the most remarkable thing is that she didn’t drop the F-Bomb while wearing the wireless mic.

  • That’s gonna leave a mark! It’s times like those I don’t envy animal handlers. No matter how well you have them “trained”, they are still wild.