Strange Tails: Birds of Prey at Tuckahoe State Park
Updated: Mar 2
The raptors on these pages live at an aviary at Tuckahoe State Park, under the care of park rangers from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
They are part of Scales & Tales, an environmental education program of the Maryland Park Service. These birds of prey are considered non-releasable because they would be unable to survive on their own in the wild.
Jupiter (band # 1807-75121)
Acquired in 2014: Mature (22 years old)
Jupiter is named from the children’s book “Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground Railroad” by Elvira Woodruff. In the book, two young boys are trying to find their sister who was kidnapped and forced into slavery. During this adventure they write letters to their brother Austin at home. Barn owls are mentioned several times throughout the book, including the boys mimicking barn owl calls.
Story: Captive bred; he was part of a species reintroduction program in Pennsylvania, his mate passed away and the bird retired to the Scales & Tales program.
1. Barn owls can be found on every continent except Antarctica
2. Their ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested
3. Barn owls are in their own family, Tytonidae, because of their skull shape, breast-bone, and comb on talon. Other North American owls are in the Strigidae family.
4. Diet is mostly small mammals, such as mice and rats. A barn owl family eats about 1,300 rats per year and 3,000 rodents in a breeding season
5. Life expectancy in the wild is 2 to 3 years, 70% of barn owls die within their first year
Great Horned Owl
Acquired in 2014: Immature
Name: Cunningham is named after Cunningham Falls State Park, where he was found.
Injury/Story: Cunningham is an imprint; probably fell out of nest as a young owl (owlet) most likely while learning to fly, someone thought it needed to be rescued and tried to make it a pet; he doesn’t know how to properly hunt, make a nest or be a wild owl.
1. What should you do if you see an owlet on the ground? Nothing. It is common for owlets to end up on the ground while learning to fly. The parents will feed it from the ground, carry it back up by locking talons, or teach it how to use its talons to walk back up the tree
2. Because of their poorly developed sense of smell, they are one of the few predators of skunk
3. Talons can apply over 500 pounds of pressure
4. It is said that if these owls could read, they could read a newspaper from across a football field
5. Nicknames: Hoot Owl, Tiger of the Sky
6. Second largest owl in the U.S. and the heaviest owl in the U.S.
Acquired 2013: Fully Mature
Name: Buck is named after the 15th U.S. President and only president to come from Pennsylvania, President James Buchanan. Buck is a mature male (DNA tested) and was found injured in northern Pennsylvania.
Injury/Story: His injury is on the right wing at the wrist joint. Attempts were made by vets/rehabbers to reset the joint and allow it to heal but due to reinjuring it several times he can no longer fully extend his right wing.
1. Eagles’ heads and tails do not turn white until they are about 5 years old
2. Eagles can live about 30 years in the wild
3. In mating and territory defense, eagles will “death spiral.” This is when two birds lock talons and spin down to the ground, releasing just before the impact
4. Eyesight is 5 to 6 times better than a human’s eyesight; they can see another eagle soaring from 50 miles away
5. When eagles first build a nest, it is about 5 feet wide and 2 feet high. Year after year, they add more materials . The nest can get too heavy and break the branches that it is resting on
6. If an eagle goes after a fish that is too large to pull out of the water and fly away with, the eagle will swim to shore and drag the fish out of the water to eat it.
7. Diet: 90% fish, carrion, waterfowl, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and mammals depending on what food is available
Red Tailed Hawk
Acquired in 2011: Mature
Name: Rankin is named after John Rankin, a man who helped thousands of runaway slaves cross into Ohio. Quilts, lanterns, and bird calls, including red tailed hawk calls, were often used as signals to guide runaway slaves to safety.
Injury/Story: Rankin was shot, pellet broke leg; also was brought in with a broken wing (likely was hit by a car after being shot); wing did not heal properly so he has limited flight.
1. Largest and most common (widespread) hawk (member of the genus Buteo) in North America
2. Takes 5 years for the red tail feathers to show; until then, the bird is considered a juvenile
3. Has a flight speed of 20 to 40 mph; when diving, it can reach upwards of 100 mph
4. Diet: Small mammals: mice, rabbits, and squirrels. Also preys on reptiles and small birds
5. Adult call is a screaming “keeeeear.” Call used in movies instead of the call of an eagle
6. Nickname was “Chicken Hawk”