Somewhere over the Sonoran Desert, a Harris Hawk is on the hunt. These magnificent raptors hunt in a group. You can see them along with other raptors at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum’s Raptor Free Flight. But if you’re going to make the trip to one of Tucson’s most popular visitor attractions, you’ll want to do it by April 2, the last day of this season’s performances. A winter attraction, the flights will start again in October and twice a day at 10 AM and 2 PM, audiences will thrill to the sight of these beautiful and graceful hunters. You can visit the museum year round. It is only the raptor flights that are scheduled in the cooler months.
The beautiful shading on the barn owl is often invisible as this raptor is a night hunter. I recommend the morning show for two reasons: The crowd is slightly smaller than in the afternoon, and if you, like me, want to capture great images, the sun is in a better position in the morning. Having said that, both visits I made were for the 2 PM performance, and I was quite happy with the resulting photographs.
A Gray Hawk surveys the desert landscape during the demonstration. The audience gallery is standing room only. If you are vertically challenged as I am, you will want to get there early enough to stand by either outside rail. The birds fly overhead and very close. Spectators are asked to keep hands, arms, cameras and children below head level as the raptors often stay very low as they fly over the spectators. Indeed, I had a Harris Hawk brush my hair with his wingtip as he flew over.
Several bird handlers and volunteers station themselves at key points on either side of the spectators and the program progresses as the raptors are directed to fly over the spectators while a narrator describes the birds, their habitat and their hunting processes. It’s a fascinating show and it doesn’t cost any extra to view the Free Flight demonstration. This show is about flight. The gallery of images below features raptors in flight. Click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.