Flamingo Gardens, is described as 60 acres of ‘tropical paradise’ and is one of the oldest botanical gardens in South Florida. Within the grounds is a wildlife sanctuary that opened in 1990 and was one of the first of its kind in South Florida, giving residence to permanently injured or non-releasable Florida native wildlife with the goal of releasing the offspring into the wild. Today it has the largest collection of Florida native wildlife in the state with over 90 native species.
We set off through the Hawk Walk. The term hawk is used to describe any of various small to medium sized falconiform birds (swift, graceful birds known for their predatory skills). It also includes birds in the accipitridae family (such as kites, buzzards and harriers) and can include certain members of the falcoidae family (such as falcons and caracaras). All of the birds in these enclosures are kept here as they cannot be returned to the wild – most of them have wing injuries that would prevent the birds for fending for themselves.
We see a turkey vulture that was found, unable to fly, in 2007 and two black vultures that have wing injuries as a result from being hit by cars while trying to eat. Turkey vultures have red heads and a very good sense of smell, allowing them to smell carrion from over three kilometres away. Black vultures have black heads and do not have such a good sense of smell. They are however very aggressive and will follow the turkey vultures around to try to steal any food they have.
A pair of Harris hawks live together in the next enclosure. Fiona, the female, was found with severe frostbite on her feet which resulted in the loss of part of her toes. Thor, the male, was used as for falconry. Unlike most hawks, Harris hawks work in groups and females often have more than one mate. The juveniles have even been known to come back to the nest to help their mother to feed the next clutch of babies.
We pass three red-shouldered hawks, also known as ‘chicken hawks’ due to the fact that they will often eat farmers’ chickens. All three of these hawks have wing injuries and this could well be due to their taste for chickens, as farmers have been known to illegally shoot them. Red-shouldered hawks are the most common hawks to be seen in Florida and are one of the most vocal birds of prey.
Two red-tailed hawks share an enclosure. The female was rescued by the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale with injuries to her left wing, probably the result of being hit by a car. Since her injury her primary feathers grow in upside down hindering her ability to fly. The male, called Stelth, has lived at Flamingo Gardens for over eight years and has a partially amputated wing. Red-tailed hawks are the largest hawks in the state of Florida and can be found across North America. There are fourteen subspecies of hawk that vary in colour but all have a brilliant red tail (as adults).
A Ferruginous Hawk called Harley came to Flamingo Gardens in 1992 from Arizona where he used to be in wildlife encounter shows. He is now retired and has a permanent wing injury which means that he cannot be released. Ferruginous hawks have feathered legs, known as ‘leggings’ to protect them when hunting squirrels and are the biggest hawks in North America.
The Coopers hawks in the next enclosure all have permanent wing injuries. They are one of the three species of accipiter hawks that are found in North America. Accipiter hawks have long tails and short wings that help them to manoeuvre through trees in the thick forest and woodland where they are usually found to hunt prey.
We also see a pair of great horned owls who both have wing injuries. The male has fathered many offspring since he arrived at the sanctuary in 1990 and the female was introduced to the enclosure after the male’s mate passed away from old age. Great horned owls are the largest of the species of owl that live in Florida and they received their names from the large, feathered ‘horns’ on the top of their heads. These horns are often thought to be their ears but they are actually just feathers.
Two barred owls live together. The male came from the Batchelor of Prey centre in Miami with a leg injury. When he was being trained for release he could not find food well on his own. A vet examined him and found that his eyes had been severely scratched. The female has a partially amputated wing, meaning that she could not be released into the wild either. Barred owls live in wooded areas and mostly hunt for small rodents. They are very vocal owls and will hoot for mates during breeding season.
The last exhibit that we come to contains five screech owls, which are the smallest species of the horned owls. There are three different colour morphs of screech owls (brown, grey and red) and they use their horns and feather coloration to blend into their environment. This makes them quite difficult to spot, even here at Flamingo Gardens!
As we come to the end of the Hawk Walk, we continue on to the Eagle Expressway. Eagles are the largest birds of prey in the world. They have large, broad, rounded wings, very deep chests and powerful beaks and talons.
First we see two caracaras that have wing injuries. The male has been at Flamingo Gardens for over eleven years, since he came from Wredes Wildlife Rescue in Sebring, Florida and the female came from the Bachelor Bird of Prey Center in Miami. Caracaras live in large pastures and feed mainly on carrion, snakes and small mammals.
In the next enclosure is a pair of golden eagles. The female, Hot Rod, came from Washington State, where she injured her wing when she got caught on a lightening rod. The male, Prince Charming, also had a wing injury that did not heal well enough for him to be released. Golden Eagles live mostly in the northern hemisphere and are very rare in Florida. They are endangered in many parts of the world and usually feed on small mammals but will also eat larger animals such as goats and deer.
Golden eagles are one of the largest and most regal birds in the world. They have long been hunted, especially by farmers who mistakenly believed that they prey on poultry and farm animals, but in old England only kings were allowed to hunt these birds. The feathers of this bird were once used to decorate the war bonnets worn by the Plains Indians. In the wild these eagles can live between 15 and 20 years and they are incredibly swift; they can swoop down on prey at speeds of over 150 kilometres per hour.
Flamingo Gardens is also home to two bald eagles with wing injuries. The female, Harmony, has been at Flamingo Gardens for over eleven years and the male, Abe, came from a wildlife care centre in 1998. He was hit by a truck and his wing was completely amputated. These bald eagles are a pair and Harmony lays eggs every year but since Abe’s wing is amputated it is difficult for them to copulate properly. In 1782 the bald eagle was chosen as the national bird of the United States. It was once near extinction due to the use of DDT, a harmful pesticide but it has made a remarkable recovery and was taken off the endangered list in 1999.
- Information provided by Flamingo Gardens