As clearly witnessed over the past few years with COVID-19 in people and highly pathogenic avian influenza in birds, diseases can cause a wide range of challenges and issues for humans and wildlife alike. Due to their position at the top of the food chain, raptors often serve as sentinels for the existence of infectious diseases in the environment.
Flash back to the early 2000s when raptors were being admitted to The Raptor Center’s (TRC) clinic with neurological and visual deficits due to a then-new virus circulating in the ecosystem: West Nile virus (WNV). In July 2007, a young red-tailed hawk was brought to the TRC clinic starving and weak.
She showed classic signs of infection in her eyes, consistent with WNV. Following supportive treatments, this hawk regained her strength, but the virus caused permanent damage to one of her eyes, resulting in significant vision loss and thus preventing her release back to the wild.
She joined TRC’s raptor ambassador collection and can be seen in many education programs. She was given the name “Alula” after the specialized feathers birds have near their wrists that aid in flight maneuvers such as soaring. While she will never regain full sight, Alula lives comfortably under the watchful eyes of the education team, helping share the beauty and importance of raptors with TRC’s audiences.