Raptors of the Desert Sky Story

Of all the animals cared for at the Museum, raptors are perhaps what we are best known for. Twenty-eight nonreleasable birds call the Museum home, half of which participate in Raptors of the Desert Sky.

The Museum started the free-flight Raptors of the Desert Sky program, which runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, more than a decade ago. Each summer day, visitors with tickets to this iconic program leave the buildings and asphalt trails behind, walking to a nearby forest clearing. The natural venue provides a unique space where five birds fly daily, landing just feet away from visitors and occasionally gliding close overhead. Human elements are minimized, giving people a glimpse into the lives of wild raptors—from owls to turkey vultures. During the program, a naturalist narrator conveys the bird’s unique adaptions, habitat requirements and conservation needs. These close encounters enable people to connect with the birds on a deep level, inspiring many to become lifelong stewards of wildlife and the landscapes we all share. 

The program is as enriching for the birds as it is for the audience. The activity provides exercise. The birds are empowered to navigate their environment, free to make choices, rewarded for coming close.

Each day each bird can choose to participate in the program. It turns out raptors aren’t that different from people. They have stage fright. They get tired. They have bad days. They don’t have to fly if they don’t want to. Another can take their place. Some, like Pefa the peregrine, are fearless, confident and highly motivated. She rarely misses a show. Others, like Walter the golden eagle, can be shy and easily overwhelmed. They might only make occasional appearances. That’s okay, as it’s all about providing the highest possible welfare to the animals we care for while sharing them with our community, and it makes for a dynamic program.

Many visitors come back multiple times, meeting different birds and learning more about the region’s wildlife with every visit. Tickets aren’t available in advance and sell out quickly—get to the Museum early to experience this summer highlight!