Raptors Again Take Flight At Arizona-Sonora Desert Museumby Jim Gressinger on Oct. 05, 2012, under Exceptional Museums, Southern Arizona Attractions, Southern Arizona Birding, Things To Do In Tucson, Things To Do With The Kidz
One of my most memorable experiences since moving to the Sonoran Desert was to hear the difference in sound between a Harris’ Hawk and a Great Horned Owl passing just above my head.
When the hawk flew past and just a few feet above me, I could hear air passing over and between its feathers. When the owl did the same … silence. If I had been blindfolded, I would never have known the Owl had passed overhead at no more than arms-length.
What made the difference? The docent narrating this extraordinary exhibition explained that the owl’s feathers are much finer than hawks’, and thus don’t disturb the air nearly as much.
Owls are like stealth fighter jets. The enemy, or prey in the case of owls, can’t detect their presence until it’s too late. If you’re a pack rat scrounging for food on a dark night, this winged predator has two unfair advantages over you. With its huge eyes, the owl can see you, but you can’t see it. Nor can you hear it approach with its powerful talons outstretched for a quick capture and certain kill.
Beginning Saturday, October 20th and continuing through April 14, 2012, you can experience the same sense of awe I felt, and a lot more. The Desert Museum’s very popular Raptor Free Flight Program begins again.
Aerial Wolf Packs
As in the past, there will be two shows daily, mid-morning and mid-afternoon. You’ll be up close and personal as the family of Harris’s Hawks hunts like a cooperative aerial wolf pack. You’ll see Ferruginous, Red-Tailed, and Gray Hawks, Prairie Falcons, Chihuahuan Ravens, and the fastest of all, Peregrine Falcons … all flying untethered in their own habitat and free to leave if they chose. Which makes me wonder how many birds the Free-Flight trainers have lost to the wild over the years. If you go, see if you can find out.
Each show is somewhat different because not all the birds are featured in each one. There’s a rotation, so if you experience more than one show, you will see and learn something new each time. Moreover, the birds are (a) unpredictable, and (b) some behaviors change with the seasons. We have gone many times and the Raptor Free Flight Program is fresh every time.
If you go, bring your camera and/or binoculars. This is an unsurpassed birding opportunity.
Dining At The Desert Museum
The Desert Museum has two good, but different places to dine. One is the cafeteria-style Ironwood Terraces that prepares everything from burgers & pizza to salads & wraps. For a fine-dining experience, it’s hard to beat the Ocotillo Cafe’, which made our 2012 List of Best Restaurants in Southern Arizona.
The Price of Admission
The Raptor Free Flight exhibitions are included with general admission. But don’t just buy a general admission ticket. Buy an annual membership. With its many perks & discounts, a Desert Museum membership is one of the best bargains anywhere in Southern Arizona. They offer several types of memberships, so you can pick the one that best suits you and your family. We’ve been Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum members since our first week as newly-minted Tucsonans.
Watch The Videos
Finally, on a related note, last year I created 4 short videos in which Desert Museum docents share their considerable knowledge of our Sonoran Desert, including an inside look at the giant Saguaro Cactus, plus an up close look at the features and behaviors of the Kestrel, Harris’ Hawk, and King Snake. To view, click HERE.