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Elachee Nature Science Center takes in bird blinded in left eye
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A new red-tailed hawk the Elachee Nature Center recently acquired sits on a perch in its cage Wednesday at the nature center in Gainesville. Having the hawk allows Elachee Nature Center to teach others about the bird firsthand. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Elachee Nature Science Center’s newest tenant has had a rough start to the new year.

“She was involved in an accident on Ga. 400,” Elachee’s education director, Peter Gordon, said of the red-tailed hawk recently brought to Elachee’s campus. “The vets concluded she was indeed blinded in her left eye, which deems her nonreleasable.” 

The accident, which occurred in early December, sent the red-tailed hawk through surgery and rehabilitative therapy and finally to Elachee’s door, where she will be cared for by the staff and help it teach the community about wildlife.

“What makes her different than the average bird in captivity is that although she is nonreleasable, she’s fully flighted,” Gordon said.

The bird will be housed in an outdoor habitat that previously held two hawks, both of which had damaged wings, for over 20 years.

The hawk is a definite newcomer to life in captivity.

“About two months ago she was a wild and fully functioning animal in nature, and now she’s having to adjust,” Gordon said. “It’s a little cramped for her right now, but she’s adjusting. She’s eating very, very well.”

The red-tailed hawk eats a diet of mice, similar to the diet of small mammals she would have found for herself in the wild.

What makes the new addition so unique is, in fact, her species’ ubiquity.

“(The red-tailed hawk) is probably the most common hawk we have in our area,” Gordon said. “It’s the kind you see high in the sky, whistling.”

Unfortunately, the red-tailed hawk’s ability to thrive in this area can sometimes work to its disadvantage.

“They’re just a very successful animal, and unfortunately where they do get in trouble is where their habitat and man’s habitat basically overlap,” Gordon said. “Highways like Ga. 400 are ideal hunting spots for lots of animals. Especially in the wintertime they will start to look there for food, and unfortunately they don’t look both ways, so they have a lot of collisions with cars.”

While Elachee is elated to have a new addition, the hawk’s accident serves as a reminder for drivers to be on the lookout.

According to State Farm, about 1.5 million animal-car accidents occur every year.

To avoid injury to humans and animals, the insurance company recommends drivers be vigilant in observing their surroundings, especially near woods or water. Drivers should use high beams whenever possible to increase their visibility, and they should be especially cautious during dusk and dawn, when a lot of animals typically venture out in search of food.

While the red-tailed hawk’s eye will never heal, she will be more than provided for in her new home, where her presence will help all of Elachee’s patrons get that much closer to the environment that’s just outside their back door.

“This bird is what I call doing time for education,” said Andrea O. Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee. “Its purpose now is to help educate and give people the opportunity to get close to a part of nature they may never have gotten close to before.”

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