Sunday, August 15, 2010


What are these two Cooper's Hawks doing reclining on a local suburban patio bench?  Read on for the amazing story.
 I took the call late Friday morning, 4 June.  

A woman on the other end said, “A hawk nest has blown out of a tree in my back yard.  Two of the babies died when they hit the ground, and one has survived.  What should I do?”

 Admittedly, I was skeptical of whether or not the birds were hawks.  WBS has permits to rehabilitate only birds of prey.  After asking all the questions to narrow down what the woman had, I concluded the youngsters were in fact hawks, and probably Cooper’s Hawks (one of my favorite birds of prey in the world).  

Because our rehabilitation department continues to operate on a shoestring budget, we do not have the ways or means to drive and pick up downed raptors.  I asked the woman if she could bring the hawk to us, stating I would coach her on how to safely acquire the hawk.  “I’ve just had surgery on my hand, my husband’s at work, I have no neighbors to help me, and I don’t want my son or daughter to handle the bird.  Please, you must help me.”

 As cruel as it might sound, in most instances we must say, “I’m very sorry, but we cannot do anything.”  Back when we used to do pick-ups, there were so many instances where, a) we got bad directions and never even got to the place the bird was down; b) the bird was a sparrow and not a hawk; or c) we got to the destination and the person who called us would say, “The bird was just right here a minute ago.”  Too much time and money was wasted attempting to do pick-ups that proved to be futile.  Still, something about this plea stuck in my mind, and the fact the baby was probably a Cooper’s Hawk is probably what pushed me over the edge.  I said, “I have to be away from headquarters later on today.  I’ll call you when I’m out and you can tell me if the bird is still in your back yard.  If it is, I’ll come out.”  After many sincere thank you’s, Amy (I finally did get her name) hung up.

 Later on that afternoon I drove up the driveway of a pretty home in a nice neighborhood.  When I rang the doorbell a young man and 2 bouncing dogs answered the door (I’m a dog man, so score 2 more for these concerned people).  Amy was close behind.  When I tried to shake Amy’s hand she could only extend her left hand because 2 fingers on her right hand were in thick bandages.  I was becoming very glad I did this pick-up.  Again, many sincere “thank you’s” were extended for me driving out.

 Amy, her son, daughter, and dogs showed me through the house and out the back door.  There, laying on a big rock by their pool was a baby, female Cooper’s Hawk.  By my best estimate she was about 15 days old.  Amy showed me the sticks from the downed nest and pointed out 2 other baby hawks, about 30 feet up in a Pin Oak.  Luckily they were just strong enough to hold onto branches as the nest came down (I thought to myself that if the wind blows too hard, those little guys are coming down, too).  They were probably the oldest of the 5, and probably the youngest 2 of the clutch were the ones that died when they fell. 
The little female Cooper's Hawk, WBS Assistant Director Jeff Meshach, and Nicholas Sprung
This young female I now had in my hands flew just well enough during the unfortunate event to flutter, but not crash to the ground.  I was glad to see she had no injury, but I quickly concluded she would not be strong enough to be placed on a branch 10 to 12 feet off the ground.  If baby hawks are old enough and strong enough to perch well, we instruct the people calling to get the bird more than 8 feet off the ground so raccoons and other ground predators cannot find them, and mom and dad hawks will still care for the youngsters.  Of course, it’s way better to let the parents continue to care for their kids than bringing the babies into captivity, especially if there’s no injury. 

For better or worse, this feisty female would have to come with me, but I promised Amy I would be back in about 5 days, when she could fly and perch better, to release her.  Not only did Amy thank me for coming out, she donated money to help us help the baby.  It’s important to note that our rehabilitation department works almost solely on donations, so when any bird is brought in a donation of at least $25 goes a long way toward its care and medical expenses.

On Saturday, 5 June, I got a call from Mike Sprung, husband of Amy.  Just as I had suspected, the other 2 hawks that were still in the tree the day before had fluttered to the ground.  Before I could say, “I’ll be right out,” Mike asked if there was anything he could do to care for the hawks.  In most cases we say no, but I did have an idea.  I asked Mike if he had a basket he could tie a rope to, throw the rope over a branch, place the babies in the basket and haul the contraption off the ground; viola, an instant, makeshift nest.  
The other two baby Cooper's Hawks in their makeshift nest
Mike had an even better idea.  He took a portable basketball hoop/backboard, tied the bottom of the net so nothing could fall through, placed a blanket at the bottom of the net and stuck some sticks from the downed nest through the nylon net to make an even more stable nest than my idea.  Mike pulled the portable “Cooper’s Hawk Nest” into his back yard, placed the 2 babies in it and within a few minutes mommy Cooper’s Hawk came in and fed her kids.
 WBS Assistant Director Jeff Meshach places the little female in the makeshift nest with her two siblings
I arrived back at the Sprung’s at 10:30, Monday morning, 7 June with the young female I had to take away.  I tried shaking Amy’s hand (habit).  After posing for some pictures and marveling at Mike Sprung’s artificial nest building ingenuity, I lowered the “nest”, placed the female in it and pushed it back to its highest setting.  I wish all birds we have to take into our rehabilitation department could be saved as easily as this one.
 WBS Assistant Director Jeff Meshach watches on as the three Cooper's Hawks settle into their unorthodox "nest"
Our sincere thanks goes out to Mike, Amy, Nicholas and Natalie Sprung for helping to save the lives of three Cooper’s Hawk kids.
So now you know "the rest of the story".  Even though these three suburban birds (the third one took off just before this photo was snapped) are every bit "wild" birds, they clearly view patio furniture as just another part of their environment.

Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Assistant Director


Jane said...

What a fantastic story. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

I found a baby crow out side being attacked by dogs what do i do?

Photog said...

The best thing you could do is to call a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. They will give you directions.