Tony (the) Hawk Lands at the Virginia Zoo

Dropping in all the way from California, the Virginia Zoo welcomes its newest resident, a Harris’s hawk named Tony. While Tony the hawk won’t be doing any tricks like ollies or kickflips on a skateboard, the bird of prey is training to become an animal ambassador and will pick up some sweet skills in no time.

Tony hatched around June 21, 2021 under the care of a Master Falconer and former colleague of several Zoo staff, and arrived at the Zoo in late 2021. The full-grown male weighs just under one-and-a-half pounds. After completing a routine quarantine period, Tony lives behind-the-scenes near the Zoo’s Program Animal Building, where he will become an ambassador for his species and voluntarily participate in educational programs such as Safari Camps, birthday parties, special events and outreaches.

Native to deserts and scrublands of the southwestern United States from California to Mexico and South American countries including Chile, Argentina and Brazil, Harris’s hawks are non-migratory birds that live and hunt in social groups, earning their species nickname, “wolves of the sky”. The bird of prey’s diet includes rabbits and other small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and occasionally carrion. Adults have dark brown plumage with chestnut and rust-colored shoulders, wings and thighs, with white on the base and tip of the tail. The species is listed as a least concern for extinction; however populations are in decline due to habitat loss.

“Harris Hawks are very smart, social and active birds, so training will be very fun with this guy!” says Tara Baumgardner, Assistant Curator of Program Animals. Using voluntary training and positive reinforcement, Tony will first learn husbandry behaviors such as stepping up onto the Keeper’s glove, stepping on a scale to be weighed, perching and eventually, kenneling. He will also be desensitized to a Keeper’s touch, which allows Keepers to touch various parts of his body, including his keel, which helps determine body condition. These enriching and stimulating behaviors are also beneficial for making any future veterinary examinations less stressful. Tony is expected to make his gnarly debut on Zoo grounds this summer once he has successfully completed his training and Keepers feel he is comfortable doing programs.