Julie Xelowski-Brooker with a ringtail
Julie Xelowski-Brooker with a ringtail

A masked creature of the night, the ringtail will be one of the animals featured in the Desert Museum’s “meet the neighbors” presentation at 3:00 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 13) at the Arizona Senior Academy.

In addition, educator Julie Xelowski-Brooker will bring a Harris’s hawk and possibly snakes or other reptiles. This is part of the museum’s effort to educate the public about animals that make their homes alongside us in this biologically rich Sonoran Desert.

Ringtails (Bassariscus astutus) make their living by being generalists. They are excellent climbers, have keen eyesight, and a sense of smell that allows them to track their prey. They will eat just about anything including fruit, insects, lizards, even snakes and mice. If you are lucky you might see a ringtail crossing your headlights some night here in the Sonoran desert. For most of us though, the desert museum offers the best close up views we will ever get.

The ringtail was designated the state mammal of Arizona in 1986. They resemble raccoons and sport long tails with black and white bands. During the day they seek the shelter of rocky areas and canyons but will also inhabit wooded areas where they shelter during the day in hollow trees and logs.

Harris's hawkHarris’s Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) are a popular feature in the museum’s free flight demonstrations. In the Tucson area they stay in family groups and hunt from the tops of saguaros. One will flush the prey, a rabbit or ground squirrel, and another will swoop in to grab it. One of these family groups can sometimes be seen along Broadway Boulevard just west of the junction with Freeman Road. Watch for Harris’s Hawks on utility poles that they have learned to use as vantage points. With a close-up view offered by Brooker, we will be able to see the strong talons needed to grasp and lift prey as big as jack rabbits.

Julie Xelowski-Brooker is an Education Specialist for The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  She has over 20 years’ experience teaching environmental education. Her background has been focused on the marine environment, the relationship between the desert and the desert sea, and of the Sonoran Desert Region. Much of her work has centered on the Warden Aquarium, a fairly recent addition to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Written by Beverley Robertson, Academy Village Volunteer

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Learn More About Our Desert Neighbors: August 2015