Remembering Val Series: 4

One of Val’s favorite education birds was “Spirit”, a Swainson’s hawk (Buteo swainsoni) that Val acquired as an education ambassador from another facility in 2002.

Val always liked to give her birds Native American names. Bi nai’adae is Apache for “spirit.” Spirit fell from the nest as a hatchling and sustained a non-releasable injury to the wing. She could fly short distances, but not the distance needed for release. Swainson’s Hawks have the longest migration of any hawk in the U.S., migrating from California to Argentina every year, often using the Mississippi flyway.

Val and Spirit had a very special relationship for 21 years. Every year Spirit went into nesting mode. She would build a stick nest in her enclosure and lay 3 or 4 eggs. Val let her sit on the eggs for a short while, then remove them while Spirit was not looking. In her later years, Spirit was retired from education programs due to her age. Her retirement was spent relaxing and taking walks through the woods with Val, her favorite person. The two had a bond that only those who work with birds long term understand, a way of reading each other’s body language, mood, and tone.

In early 2023, as Val privately battled her own health issues, Spirit passed away, preceding her beloved keeper by only a few months. No doubt she was waiting on the other side, ready to show Val how to fly.

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