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Animal Attraction: Two Harris’ Hawks Return Home to Texas

Animal Attraction:  Two Harris’ Hawks Return Home to Texas

Credit: Gary Peeples, USFWS

One of two Harris' hawks returned to Texas.

by Stacy Fox

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 6:20 AM

A pair of Harris’ hawks, unlawfully captured in Texas and brought to North Carolina, were treated to a plane ride back to their south Texas home, the culmination of nearly two months of effort that included law enforcement officers, raptor biologists, and Delta Air Lines.

In October, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received a tip about the birds through their Operation Game Thief wildlife crime stoppers program. State game wardens began investigating the case, and by mid-November the tip led U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Special Agents to a North Carolina suspect in possession of the hawks.

The birds, both juveniles, were taken to the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., for treatment, rehabilitation and evaluation for release. The hawks were in good condition and readily retreated from humans, demonstrating that their ordeal did not habituate them.

Delta Air Lines provided transportation from Charlotte, N.C., to San Antonio, Texas, for the birds and their caretaker.

“Delta is happy to be able to help return these birds to their homes,” said Sinead O’Neal, manager, marketing and product development for Delta Cargo.

Amber Rosintoski, director of bird programming for the raptor center, accompanied the birds.  In San Antonio she met staff from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who escorted her to an area near where they were taken from the wild outside of Laredo, Texas. Operation Game Thief Committee Member Gene Walker offered to allow the release of the hawks on his family ranch in Webb County.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to send these birds back into nature. They deserve to be returned to their natural habitat,” said Rosintoski.

Sometimes referred to as the “wolves of the sky,” Harris’ hawks are one of the few raptors to live in groups. Cooperative hunting allows these raptors to kill larger prey than a lone hawk and they can take down mammals the size of a jackrabbit. Their wingspan is three-and-a-half to four feet and they can weigh as much as four pounds each.

“This type of criminal activity and the abuse of wildlife cannot be tolerated,” said James Gale, Resident Agent in Charge for the Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our special thanks to the dedicated Texas game wardens for their investigative work and to Delta for helping us return these proud raptors to their home.”

The investigation into the capture of the hawks will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution. It’s alleged that the Harris’ hawks were trapped without the required state and federal permits.

“Since its inception in 1981, Operation Game Thief has fielded close to 28,000 phone tips, filed more than 9,000 cases with a 98 percent conviction rate, netted more than $1 million in fines, and paid rewards totaling more than $200,000,” said Lt. Eric Howard of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who coordinates the OGT program. “This case shows how that benefits not only game animals, but also everything from birds of prey to endangered sea turtles.”

Operation Game Thief is Texas’ wildlife “crime-stoppers” program, operating a 24-hour, toll-free hotline to report crimes,               800-792-GAME. Rewards of up to $1,000 may be paid to callers, who may remain anonymous. Rewards and hotline operations are entirely funded with private donations. For more information, visit

The Carolina Raptor Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to environmental stewardship and the conservation of birds of prey through education, research, and the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned raptors. For more information or to make a donation, visit the center’s website at

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit and

Photo:  One of two Harris' hawks returned to Texas. Credit: Gary Peeples, USFWS