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A brown and black raptor takes flight from a tree limb
Information icon Harris’ hawk. Photo by khyri, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Two Harris’ hawks seized in North Carolina returning home to Texas

A pair of Harris’ hawks, unlawfully captured in Texas and brought to North Carolina, are being treated to a plane ride back to their south Texas home today, the culmination of nearly two months of effort that included law enforcement officers, raptor biologists, and Delta Air Lines.

In October, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received a tip about the birds through their Operation Game Thief wildlife crime stoppers program. State game wardens began investigating the case, and by mid-November the tip led U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Special Agents to a North Carolina suspect in possession of the hawks.

The birds, both juveniles, were taken to the Carolina Raptor Center, in Huntersville, N.C., for treatment, rehabilitation and evaluation for release. The hawks are in good condition and readily retreat from humans, demonstrating that their ordeal has not habituated them.

Delta Air Lines is providing transportation from Charlotte, N.C., to San Antonia, Texas, for the birds and their caretaker.

“Delta is happy to be able to help return these birds to their homes,” said Sinead O’Neal, manager, marketing & product development for Delta Cargo.

Amber Rosintoski, director of bird programming for the raptor center, is accompanying the birds. In San Antonio she will meet staff from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who will escort her to an area near where they were taken from the wild outside of Laredo, Texas. Operation Game Thief Committee Member Gene Walker has offered to allow the release of the hawks on his family ranch in Webb County.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to send these birds back into nature. They deserve to be returned to their natural habitat,” she said.

Sometimes referred to as the “wolves of the sky,” Harris’ hawks are one of the few raptors to live in groups. Cooperative hunting allows these raptors to kill larger prey than a lone hawk and they can take down mammals the size of a jackrabbit. Their wingspan is three-and-a-half to four feet and they can weigh as much as four pounds each.

“This type of criminal activity and the abuse of wildlife cannot be tolerated,” said James Gale, Resident Agent in Charge for the Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our special thanks to the dedicated Texas game wardens for their investigative work and to Delta for helping us return these proud raptors to their home.”

The investigation into the capture of the hawks will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution. It’s alleged that the Harris’ hawks were trapped without the required state and federal permits.

“Since its inception in 1981, Operation Game Thief has fielded close to 28,000 phone tips, filed more than 9,000 cases with a 98 percent conviction rate, netted more than $1 million in fines, and paid rewards totaling more than $200,000,” said Lt. Eric Howard of TPWD, who coordinates the OGT program. “This case shows how that benefits not only game animals, but also everything from birds of prey to endangered sea turtles.”

Operation Game Thief is Texas’ wildlife “crime-stoppers” program, operating a 24-hour, toll-free hotline to report crimes, 800-792-GAME. Rewards of up to $1,000 may be paid to callers, who may remain anonymous. Rewards and hotline operations are entirely funded with private donations. For more information, visit http://www.ogttx.com.

The Carolina Raptor Center is a 501©(3) non-profit dedicated to environmental stewardship and the conservation of birds of prey through education, research, and the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned raptors. For more information or to make a donation, visit the center’s website at www.carolinaraptorcenter.org

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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