PITTSBURG, Kan. — Delia Lister tries to coax Alexander onto her glove, calling him "buddy" and giving him a dead mouse to snack on.
But with others around, he's more interested in squawking to let the newcomers know they've entered his territory. He still has a lot to learn, Lister said — and that's OK. He'll be ready to fill his new role by this fall, she hopes.
Alexander is a Harris's hawk and the newest animal ambassador for Nature Reach, a natural history and environmental education outreach program operated by Pittsburg State University's biology department. Arriving in Pittsburg last month via the Wild At Heart Inc. raptor rescue, he succeeds Harriet, Nature Reach's 35-year-old Harris's hawk who died in January.
"Hopefully he'll be our star for the next 30 years," said Lister, director of Nature Reach.
Alexander was turned over to Wild At Heart, based in Phoenix, in July 2018. Officials believe he had fallen out of his nest as a fledgling and was found by someone who attempted to care for him by feeding him hamburger meat.
"All young birds (and) mammals need special nutrition, and raptors especially need calcium for their bones to develop properly," the nonprofit said on Facebook in late July 2018, noting that three other raptors that were turned over to Wild At Heart in early 2018 died because of a lack of nutrition from improper rehabilitation. "When Alexander first came to us, he was very weak and could not stand. We were worried that he would never be able to stand or have normally formed legs."
Lister said Alexander, now about 1 1/2 years old, is still a bit splay-legged, but overall he is healthy and ready to begin his new life in Southeast Kansas. He had gotten too used to people, so it was unlikely he could have been released into the wild, she said.
"That makes him perfect for this program," Lister said, adding that he joins eight other raptors and two nonraptors, a turkey vulture and a crow, at Nature Reach. "(Our birds) help tell the story of raptors. We talk about what not to do so we can protect them and keep them in the wild as much as possible."
As an animal ambassador for Nature Reach, Alexander will travel with Lister to local classrooms and workshops to help connect people with nature and to provide education on the natural world. He is currently learning how to come to Lister's glove; next, Lister will walk around with him on the Nature Reach property to get him used to his new surroundings and his new trainer.
"He has to learn to sit on my fist, trust me, go in and out of the carrier, to allow me to walk around with him," she said.
Lister also is beginning to understand Alexander's personality and how he differs from Harriet.
"Harriet was twice as big and not afraid to show dominance," Lister said. "Alexander is very curious, very friendly. He kind of turns his head like he's trying to figure you out. He's a little hesitant to learn things, but I think that's just nerves."
The Harris's hawk is found mostly in open dry country and cactus deserts in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico and south into Central and South America. It hunts actively in small groups, feeding on small mammals, birds and lizards.
Some attempts have been made to reintroduce the species to the Colorado River Valley. The species has been threatened in some places because of illegal taking of individual birds for falconry, according to the National Audubon Society.
Harris's hawks are common, but their populations have declined by around 2% per year between 1968 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The global breeding population is estimated at around 920,000.
Harris's hawks also practice a behavior known as "backstanding," in which several birds will stand on top of each other, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is believed that the hawk at the top of the stack can see over a greater area and spot prey or predators, or that the behavior may help provide shade to the birds.