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Desert hawk flies the coop in Quechee

  • Paige, a reddish brown desert hawk, flew away from Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., on July 13, 2021. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2021 9:23:24 PM
Modified: 7/20/2021 9:23:29 PM

QUECHEE — If anyone in the Quechee area sees a reddish-brown raptor unusually comfortable with people, that may well be Paige, a desert hawk that flew away from the Vermont Institute of Natural Science last week.

Staff at the nonprofit nature center have been searching for the female raptor for over a week.

“We work with the birds daily. It’s tough times for the staff,” said on-site programs director Chris Collier. “It’s exhausting, both emotionally and physically.”

Paige is a Harris’s hawk that is about 2 pounds and 18 inches tall. Collier and his staff closely monitor a triangulated telemetry system in hopes that it would lead them to the tracker on Paige. The system had indicated that she was in a forest nearby until the signal went dead last Wednesday evening, a day after she flew off.

Collier said they initiated an “ever-expanding search” from the point last indicated on the tracker. Paige was nowhere to be found.

Collier said birds have flown away only “a handful of times” since he started working at VINS in 2004, but Paige is a repeat offender. Anna Morris, a trainer who works closely with the hawk, said she flew off for 44 hours last summer, but she never left the nature center’s campus off Route 4 in Quechee. Trainers work with Paige daily to prepare for flight demonstrations. For weeks, Morris had been trying to accustom Paige to flying over crowds in preparation for the center’s daily public demonstrations.

“I was building her up to that. She was working up to it bit by bit,” Morris said.

Morris said Paige was “anxious” about crowds, so during practice on July 13 she had her fly over familiar staff members. Paige proved recalcitrant. First, she flew into a nearby tree. Morris tried to lure her back with food and crumpled up newspaper (one of Paige’s favorite toys), but to no avail. Soon, Paige was out of sight.

Most of the avian residents at VINS are injured birds from across Vermont. Last year, it served 1,025 wounded birds.

Paige, however, is one of the 15 birds that VINS’ education team trains to perform for the public. Four of those birds, including Paige, came from breeders and were born into captivity.

“Most injured birds cannot participate in flight demonstrations,” Morris said noting that Harris’s hawks are a unique addition to VINS’ corps of educational birds because they are “the only truly social raptor.”

“We’re hoping that she’s looking for her family,” Morris said, referring to VINS.

For now, though, Paige, who is named for the town in Texas where she was raised, is still making her own way in the wild.

“We’re fortunate that it’s summer,” Morris said.

Paige, a desert native, is not adapted to below-freezing temperatures.

“I’m sure she could capture her own food. Physically, she’s fully capable. Mentally, I don’t know,” Morris said. “If I drop a treat on the ground, she doesn’t dive. Food for her is from the treat pack or the glove.”

Collier said Paige would likely pursue chipmunks and squirrels. He trusted that “hunger and instinct” would ensure that she would not go hungry for long. Morris said that Paige is not large enough to endanger pets like cats of small dog.

“Hopefully, she’s right in the area,” said Collier. “We’re just hoping she comes back.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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