Freedom Center for Wildlife, Inc. (FCW) is the proud home of North America’s oldest known captive Harris’s Hawk at the current age of 34 years. Her name is Cheyenne and she serves as an animal ambassador for not only her species, but for all wildlife, and this is her story.
Cheyenne hatched in the spring of 1985 at the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri. She traveled across the United States with several falconers over the years. There is no paper trail to track her exact movements, but she made her way from Missouri across several states until she came to the northeastern region of the US. At this time, she was still within care of a falconer. During one cold winter, she was left outside and suffered frost bite on her feet. As a result, Cheyenne lost all but four talons on her feet. Due to her injuries, she was unable to continue in falconry and was given to Hawk Creek Wildlife Center located in New York. In 2008, FCW acquired Cheyenne at the age of 23, by which time she was already into her senior years. FCW celebrated Cheyenne’s 30th birthday in 2015. A huge birthday card was made for everyone to sign and give her birthday wishes. She turned 34 this year, and set the record age for her species another year higher.
Ruth Brooks, the President of FCW, for years has always suspected that Cheyenne was the oldest captive Harris’s Hawk, but never confirmed her suspicion. I did an initial Google search and found on allaboutbirds.org, listed under the “cool facts” for Harris’s Hawks, that the oldest captive was a female at 25yrs of age. This went along with Ruth’s suspicion. At the time, Cheyenne was already well past 25. In December 2018, the FCW Board of Directors discussed this topic and decided to investigate if this was true. FCW had Cheyenne’s birth certificate and band number, so Linda Cherkassky (FCW advisor) submitted this information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. As a result, Cornell accepted FCW’s evidence about Cheyenne being the oldest known captive Harris’s Hawk and updated the species account for the Birds of North America and the “cool facts” on allaboutbirds.org. Cheyenne’s species was also featured as the ‘Bird of the Week,’ with a special shout out to Cheyenne being the oldest known captive Harris’s Hawk, on the American Bird Conservancy website.
FCW is especially proud of this achievement for a few reasons. Cheyenne is by far the favorite of all the animal ambassadors at FCW. She has a wonderful, quirky personality and loves to test new volunteers by trying to intimidate them when they enter and leave her enclosure. We have seen consistently that if a volunteer does not pass Cheyenne’s test, they will not stay with us for long. She is also a fan favorite with the general public. Her plumage is gorgeous, and since she is a nonnative species to New Jersey, most people have never seen a Harris’s Hawk in person.
More importantly, this fact showcases Ruth Brooks’ profound care for wildlife, especially the FCW animal ambassadors. Cheyenne remaining in excellent health, especially during her most senior years, is a proud accomplishment for Ruth. In wildlife rehabilitation there is often very little reward outside of releasing healthy wildlife back to the wild. There is little to no financial gain, and many wildlife rehabilitators work long hours and odd times in order to care for wildlife. The burnout rate is high, but Ruth has persevered and mastered her skill. As a result, Ruth, Cheyenne, and the rest of FCW will continue to celebrate Cheyenne’s birthday each year, and mark another record set for the Harris’s Hawk species. Cheyenne is living history, and it is a privilege to share the same birth year with her. Happy Birthday, Cheyenne! And to many more years!
Cheyenne’s enclosure is currently in need of some serious repairs. FCW is searching for funding in order to make these repairs, and to expand her enclosure for enrichment purposes. If you are able to help financially, please make a donation through our website. Alternatively, you can purchase a symbolic adoption packet of Cheyenne on online at the FCW shop. freedomcenterforwildlife.org
Written by Denise Hassinger, MSc., Treasurer of FCW