Valerie the Fire Breather


Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

This Red-tailed Hawk came to us in August of 2015 with severe injuries received when flying through a methane gas plume. Because these plumes burn clear a bird cannot see them as they fly over. In addition, since raptors do not have a strong sense of smell they cannot recognize danger by the odor of the burning gas. As soon as a bird flies over one of these plumes their feathers instantly singe off and they fall to the ground like a rock.

When Valerie was brought to the Center she had severe damage to her feathers from the  intense heat. In addition her cere (the skin above the beak) and her feet were severely burned. Through the efforts of dedicated veterinarians and the staff at the Medina Raptor Center Valorie has made an amazing recovery. Unfortunately her beak did not regrow enough to enable her to tear food into small enough pieces to swallow so she cannot be released to the wild and will require special care for life.

She has become an educational ambassador for the Center spreading her story and a message of conservation. This type injury, 100% caused by man, is not preventable. We can’t even imagine what it must be like for these majestic creatures to be flying freely one minute and falling to the ground in what must be excruciating pain the next, not knowing what happened.

About Red-tailed Hawks

(Information taken from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

The most common and widespread hawk in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk is a bird of open country. It is frequently seen sitting on utility poles where it watches for rodents in the grass along the roadside.

  • Large hawk.
  • Wings long and broad.
  • Tail broad and red.
  • Most commonly with pale chest and dark band across belly.
  • Size: 45-65 cm (18-26 in)
  • Wingspan: 114-133 cm (45-52 in)
  • Weight: 690-1460 g (24.36-51.54 ounces)
  • Extremely variable in appearance with light and dark forms.
  • Tail reddish on top, with dark band near end.
  • Tail lighter red below; unbanded.
  • Light forms: Head darkish brown. Throat dark or white. Chest white or with rusty streaks. Dark band of streaks across belly variable, from very dark to nearly absent. Dark patches at leading edge of wing, and dark trailing edge. Back dark brown with white mottling; white forming loose “V” on shoulders. May show pale eyestripe.
  • Dark form: Dark brown all over. May be rufous on chest. Tail red on top. In flight, front of wings dark, flight feathers pale, with dark trailing edge.
  • “Harlan’s Hawk” is a dark form without red on tail.
Sex Differences

Sexes look alike; female larger


Juvenile similar to adult, but more streaked, and has brown tail with several dark bars across it.


Small and medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles

Summer Range:

Breeds from Alaska to Labrador, southward to Mexico and the Caribbean, down to Panama.

Winter Range:

Winters from southern Canada southward.


Found in open areas with scattered elevated perches, including agricultural areas, fields, pasture, parkland, broken woodland, and scrub desert.


Sit-and-wait predator, usually watching from elevated perch. Also hovers in strong wind.

Nest Type:

Large bowl of sticks in tall tree or on cliff ledge. Lined with bark, green twigs, and other items.

Egg Description:

White, marked with brown blotches

Clutch Size:

1-5 eggs

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless and covered with white down

Conservation Status

Populations increasing in much of North America, apparently in response to the widespread establishment of open, wooded parkland in place of grassland or dense forest.


Call a raspy, scraping, screamed “kree-eee-ar.”