Horatio — one of the Conservancy’s feathered wildlife ambassadors
By Conservancy Volunteer Bill Rhodes
Over the past few years, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has been redesigning and rebuilding its wildlife rehabilitation area, a part of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital facilities. Behind the main hospital, new flight and recovery cages for birds of prey have been built as well as a new, modern aviary and a shallow pool built for wading and shore birds.
A few birds are permanent residents and serve as wildlife ambassadors. They came to the Conservancy badly hurt, wings or eyes damaged, and cannot be released into the wild. Other than the impairment from their original injuries, they are healthy now.
One wildlife ambassador is a red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, named Horatio. Red-tails are among the most common hawks in North America, often seen in trees along roadsides. He has a reddish tail that contrasts with his overall brown plumage, and sports large, razor-sharp talons. Horatio, incidentally, may not be a male — birds that do not exhibit sexual dimorphism (males and females having differing plumage and colors) can only be told apart by an internal exam or blood test.
He came to the Conservancy in 2004 with a broken wing, after a fall from his nest. Horatio is large, and looks bulky, but he weighs only 2.5 lbs. Birds’ bones are hollow, keeping their weight down to permit flight. Horatio’s right humerus (wing bone) was broken from his fall, and while it mended, he is unable to fly well enough to be released into the wild. While red-tails can live 12–15 years in the wild, in human care they can live as long as 25–30 years.
At home now in a 30’-foot tall wire mesh, wooden, and steel aviary, Horatio has several roosts, ramps, and platforms to hop and climb on as well as a pool to bathe in. He is fed rats and mice, along with quail and chicken, which reflect the types of prey he would hunt for in the wild. While red-tails prefer small mammals as prey, they are opportunistic and can target birds, lizards, and snakes also. Like other birds of prey (except turkey vultures, which rely predominately on smell) red-tails hunt using their highly developed eyesight. Circling high above the ground, they can spot a field mouse scurrying in the brush below. Those you see on roadside trees and poles use those perches to scan the ground for prey and will swoop down from there to capture their food.
Come meet Horatio, our wildlife ambassador. He can be heard from a distance, seen close-up in his enclosure, and is often brought out by a Conservancy naturalist to the delight of guests and children during educational programs.