Raptor Program

The Waterman Conservation Education Center is proud to house birds of prey that cannot be returned to the wild. The Birds of Prey exhibit features three enclosures and is open to the public from dawn to dusk every day. These animals cannot be released into the wild for a variety of reasons and are used in teaching programs.

Our mission is to protect these birds and to provide them with humane and enriching lives. Birds of prey can live in captivity for many years, and, as caretakers, we need to have the necessary environment and medical attention to support their survival. Please consider being a part of something very special and lend your support to these wondrous creatures.

Red-Tailed Hawk:

Redmond, our red-tailed hawk has lived at Waterman Center about 12 years and is estimated to have been born in 1990. Redmond was found weak and sickly in the wild and brought to the Cornell Wildlife Health Center. He was found to have very poor eyesight in his left eye, and not able to hunt in the wild. Redmond is used in our educational programs.

Red-tailed Hawk Facts:

Red-tailed Hawks are one of the largest members of hawks known as buteos, identified by broad wings and a wide, fan-like tail used for soaring. Red-tailed Hawks hunt from a high perch or while soaring in the air. They are probably the most common hawk in North America. As with most raptors, Red-tailed Hawks have hooked beaks, talons and they catch their food with their feet. The male and female Red-tailed Hawks have similar color patterns, but differ in size. The females are generally 25% larger than the males. Males are faster and can catch more agile prey; females can handle larger, stronger animals.


Lifespan: 20 years

Size: Male - 1.25-2 pounds, Female - 2-4 pounds

Wingspan: 45-52 in

Habitat: Red-tailed Hawks inhabit just about every habitat on the continent except in areas of unbroken forest or tundra. They occur in a variety of habitats including woods with nearby open land, plains, prairie groves and deserts. Their preferred forest types are white pine forest and mixed hardwoods with red oak dominating. Red-tailed Hawks can often be seen perched on treetops, telephone poles and fence posts, especially along the highways.


Nesting: Red-tailed Hawks typically put their nests in the crowns of tall trees where they have a commanding view of the landscape. The Red-tailed Hawk lays 1 to 5 white or buff speckled with brown eggs. Eggs are approximately 2.5 in by 1.8 in. Incubation is 28 to 35 days. Both members build the nest, or simply refurbish one of the nests that they have used in previous years. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across. The inner cup is lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation.


Diet: They prey mainly on mammals. They eat voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits and squirrels, but will also feed on snakes, amphibians, small and medium-sized birds such as pheasants, starlings and blackbirds. Individual prey can weigh up to 5 pounds.


Communication: Has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.


Behavior: Red-tailed Hawks are large, sharp-taloned birds that can be aggressive when defending nests or territories. They frequently chase off other hawks, eagles, and Great Horned Owls. Mated pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies. Most birds from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains fly south for a few months in winter, remaining in North America. Birds across the rest of the continent typically stay put, sharing the countryside with northern arrivals. Crows and other small birds chase hawks and owls to purge their territory of a potential predator.

Northern Harrier Hawk:

The Northern Harrier Hawk, also known as the Marsh Hawk, gets its name from its hunting method of flying low over the surface of fields in measured patterns. Harriers are among our larger native species.

Northern Harrier Facts:

They can be distinguished from other open country raptors, such as Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks, by their narrow wings forming a V-shape in flight, long tail, dark wing tips, and white rump patch. The face of Northern Harriers bears more resemblance to that of an owl's than a hawk's. Most hawks are visual predators, however facial disks around the harrier's eyes direct sound to their ears, allowing them to hunt by sound as well as sight.


Both male and female Northern Harriers have dark hooked bills that are yellow at the base, yellow eyes and yellow-orange feet. These birds also have yellow skin near the base of the bill and a cluster of feathers around their face. Males are gray above and females are brown above.

The Northern Harrier is certainly one of the most distinctive North American raptors. Graceful and elegant in its flight and unusual in its plumage, this hawk is a distinctive and prominent member of both our grassland and wetland communities. Since we have lost so much of both habitats the harrier serves as a symbol of our diminishing open wild spaces.

Lifespan: 10-12 years.

Size: The female bird is quite a bit larger than the male. Length: 17-24 inches

Wingspan: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet

Weight: 12-18 ounces.

Habitat: Northern Harriers prefer large, open wetlands, pastures, cropland, grasslands, bogs, thickets, and the woodland area along rivers. Reclaimed strip mines planted with tall grasses are also frequently used. They reside in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Nesting: Northern Harriers nest on the ground in thick grass, shrubbery, or other vegetation. The nest is a pile of sticks and grass. Nesting begins in Late April-mid May. The female lays 3 - 6 eggs depending on the abundance of small rodents. The eggs are incubated 29 - 31 days, and the young hawks fledge 4 - 5 1/2 weeks later. The males deliver food. Harriers mature in 2 - 3 years, but may be able to breed their first year.

Diet: This hawk eats small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and carrion. Harriers hunt using a low, slow flight over the ground, then plunge onto their prey.

Communication: During courtship, these birds can be heard making a shrill "kek" or "ke" sound. These sounds repeat in series. You'll also hear them making a descending scream during flight.

Behavior: Unlike most hawks, harriers can use their sense of hearing to help locate prey. Harriers have an owl-like facial disk to help with directional hearing and soft feathers for a quieter flight. Many birds of prey utilize display flights during courtship. The male Northern Harrier's courtship flight is a series of dramatic "barrel rolls" over his territory. They winter across the middle to southern United States into Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. Some birds travel over 900 miles to their wintering grounds.