Vandals broke into the Elachee Nature Science Center and released its resident red-tailed hawk, according to center staff.
Peter Gordon, Elachee’s director of education, noticed at 2 p.m. April 18, that the door to the aviary was ajar, and the bird of prey was nowhere to be seen.
He said the hawk is typically fed around 3-4 p.m., but he decided to stop by earlier after hiking around the center.
At first Gordon thought he didn’t close the cage sufficiently after feeding the bird the previous afternoon, but then saw an unfamiliar rock and damaged door mechanism.
“Whatever the motivation, they had taken some dramatic steps,” he said.
On Monday morning, Gordon said Elachee reached out to the Gainesville Police Department to file a report.
Kim Marks, Elachee’s development director, said the nature center’s staff plan to review camera footage and keep their eyes on the skies.
Despite being an apex predator, Gordon said the red-tailed hawk won’t be able to survive in the wild like other raptor birds because of its left blind eye.
The bird made its home at Elachee four years ago after colliding with a car on Ga. 400. Gordon said the hawk was rehabilitated at Chattahoochee Nature Center and dubbed non-releasable.
The red-tailed hawk is a diurnal raptor, meaning that it captures its prey during the day.
“Unlike owls that depend more on hearing than eyesight for hunting at night, hawks really depend on eyesight,” Gordon said. “Seeing with one eye makes it difficult to fly and reduces depth perception. There are a lot of challenges it’s going to have if it’s going to survive.”
Elachee staff have placed food for the red-tailed hawk to prompt its return. However, the chances of luring it back are slim.
“This is a wild bird,” Gordon said. “It’s back in nature, and it’s not like a Disney film where we can entice it to come to us, and it’s not trained as a falconry bird.”
Because the hawk is an untamed creature, it doesn’t have an official name, but Gordon said the kids who attend the center’s Nature Academy call the female bird, “Red.”
For four years, the school’s children have walked past the hawk and learned about its ecology, adaptations and why it lived in the cage.
“It was doing a tremendous job as an educational ambassador for the nature center,” Gordon said. “We think about the educational loss as a part of this act. Fortunately, if the bird is still here, assuming it was released, it’s going to be in a protected habitat.”