Red-Tail Hawk Celebrates 31-Years Of Life | News
At some point, we find ourselves in an unbreakable routine. During our waking hours, we eat, socialize and have moments of fresh air to observe our surroundings. Time passes and suddenly we’re old.
For Charlie, Thursday, March 1st was the same routine as usual, but it was his 31st birthday party. He was surrounded by loved ones singing happy birthday, eating cake and playing games celebrating the joyous occasion.
Charlie wouldn’t understand the festivities happening around him because he’s a wild animal, a red-tail hawk eying the room in a way one does to understand their surroundings and survive.
He’s the oldest living red-tail hawk in the entire world as defined in the longevity records by falconers. His home is Washington State University with the Raptor Club. Calculations have estimated his age to equal about 234 human years.
The normal life span for hawks is about 10 years. For those in captivity, about 20 years. He’s surpassed both statistics.
The birthday party’s attendees consisted of club members, volunteers and other raptor acquaintances: an owl, a falcon and Charlie. Program coordinator Sarah Monzel says the birds are not very social.
Charlie stands tall and grips Logan Belleque’s gloved arm as she describes him as an old codger in the woods. She understands that’s not the way he was in his younger years.
“He reminds me of those grizzly old men you see,” Logan Belleque, first year veterinary student said. “That’s exact who he’s become.”
Phyllis Van Horn, 69, remembers the first time Charlie stepped onto her glove ten years ago. She tried not to be nervous after being trained with just smaller birds. They described Charlie to her as a gentleman. She says he was.
“I had him on the glove for the first time and I was almost hyperventilating,” Van Horn said.
“All of a sudden I end up with this humongous creature on my glove. He felt like he weighed about a ton,” she continued. “I was awkward. I was nervous. He was just like he is now, really quiet and peaceful.”
The wearing years do have an affect on him. He takes the senior citizen’s prerogative, Van Horn says, and only does what he wants when he wants to. Some days he’s not eager to step off his perch onto a glove.
“It used to be, I’d say ‘Charlie, step up,’ and ‘Charlie, step back,’ and he’d step back to the perch. Now I say, ‘Charlie, step up,’ - if he doesn’t want to, he’ll step off the perch and saunter off to another part of the cage in a way that says ‘I’m not really in the mood right now’,” Van Horn describes. “You just have to be very patient and very persistent. He will get on the glove eventually.”
He was recently treated for arthritis. A clinician noticed he was having trouble getting from the perch to the glove and could tell he was in pain. He was given the smallest dosage of arthritis medication.
Van Horn says he soon evened out: “He’s not on medicare, but he is on arthritis medication.”
She spends her Thursday with Charlie, volunteering with the club. Van Horn was the one to give Charlie his birthday meal, his normal grub of mouse.
He’s earned his place with the University. Being the first bird in the Raptor Club, brought to the school in 1981, he’s seen it all. Belleque says he’s an ambassador of sorts. They take him out to nursing homes, public schools and fairs. He was trained personally by retired WSU veterinarian Erik Stauber who Van Horn says trained him exquisitely.
As the birthday party reached its height, students participated in a game of “pin the feather on the hawk”, in place of a donkey. While blind-folded, one student searched in thin-air with the hawk tail. Charlie watched her with the aged eyes of a hawk.
WSU News: Want to see Charlie in action? Check out this video shot by Washignton State University yesterday at the birthday party.