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Celebrate World Wildlife!

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Grasshopper is a resident Swainson's hawk at the California Raptor Center.

March 2014

To all friends of feather and fur, scales and tails, claws and paws—Happy World Wildlife Day!

March 3 marks the first international day dedicated to raising awareness of the world’s wild flora and fauna, designated by the United Nations General Assembly.

"While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “On this inaugural World Wildlife Day, I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably."

Here in California’s Central Valley, we have many wild species for which we want to heighten awareness, but we’d like to focus our celebration on the return of the Swainson's hawk to the area where they nest and raise their young. Listed as a threatened species in California, Swainson’s hawks fly thousands of miles annually between their nesting and wintering territories, typically in Mexico or Central America.  

Visitors to the California Raptor Center (CRC), a program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, have the opportunity to see a Swainson’s hawk up close. Grasshopper is a male Swainson's hawk that came to the CRC in March 2006, when he was about one year old. A cataract on his left eye could not be completely removed, and adequate vision could not be restored, so Grasshopper can never see well enough to hunt. He is therefore non-releasable. 

“Grasshopper is a wonderful ambassador to the public for the Swainson's hawk,” said Michelle Hawkins, director of the CRC. “He is an extremely mellow bird and patiently stays on the fist, even helping the CRC train new handlers.” 

Grasshopper has been trained as an education bird for the CRC and has participated in many off-site presentations. In addition, he is frequently brought out for visitors at the Center. He got his name not only because he seemed like such a "young warrior," but because Swainson's hawks will mostly eat insects for nine months of the year and are especially fond of grasshoppers and locusts. 

Two upcoming events celebrate the Swainson’s hawk. The Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk group will welcome them back to the area on Saturday, April 12 at 9 am at Sutter Landing Park in Sacramento. Come visit Grasshopper when the CRC hosts its Spring Open House on May 3, from approximately 9 am to 1 pm. Stay tuned for more details!

Other interesting Swainson’s hawk facts:

Swainson's hawk chicks must hatch, fledge, learn to feed themselves, and join a migration of thousands of miles within three to four months of birth.

Swainson's hawks are communal feeders, often seen gathering up in flocks on fields or circulating in aerial tiers above harvesting activities or insect swarms.

Swainson's hawks eat agricultural pests including insects on the fly, and insect larvae, voles, ground squirrels and other small rodents in the fields.

Swainson's hawks return after migration to their nesting sites and mates. In California, Sacramento is at the center of their nesting area.