Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Red-tailed Hawk, Female

The following is a description from guest author Lisa Minzer about her incredible experience as the result of her purchase at Fete du Feather (World Bird Sanctuary’s auction fundraiser) of the Rehabber For A Day package.

Red-tailed Hawk, female is having one bummer of a morning.  She’d barely had time to dig in to her hearty breakfast of chopped mouse and raw chicken before she was rudely prodded from her perch by a human bearing a long metal pole.  To top it off she was captured and imprisoned in a plastic animal carrier and carted away from the open air enclosure that had become her temporary home.

“She’s clearly in no mood to be handled right now, and she lets me know it.”  Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager for the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO, gingerly places her in my arms, instructing me to hold her carefully but firmly.  Her back is pressed to my front, and Joe moves my hands into position to grasp her legs just above her talons and hold her wings in place with my forearms.  The thick suede gloves I’m wearing make the task clumsy and the long leather apron covering me from throat to knee hampers my movement.  Joe steps back and nods in approval.

“Bring her down a little lower, Lisa,” he instructs.  “You’re holding her a bit too high.”

I glance down at the immobilized bird, and she’s scowling irritably at me, her mouth open wide.  I think she’s contemplating ripping off my bottom lip. I slide her down further so she’s beyond reach of my face.  I’m kinda attached to that lip.

Holding RTH female 
She’s known only as Red-tailed Hawk, female.  Despite her rehab stint at World Bird Sanctuary, she’s never been named. Naming implies ownership or attachment, and no one can lay claim to something wild like this, except perhaps nature herself.

Birds of prey such as this are instinctively wary—even fearful— of humans, so for their own safety, this natural reticence is carefully protected during their stay at World Bird Sanctuary.  Human interaction is kept to a minimum and birds that will be returned to the wild are deliberately kept away from the public eye.

 “Are you ready, Lisa?” asks Joe.

“I’m ready.”

This is the climactic moment of a long but very fulfilling (and enlightening) day at World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, Missouri.  

My sister Mary, me and friend Lisa 
I had arrived earlier that morning with my sister Mary, and friend Lisa, for a rare behind-the-scenes hands-on experience.  Joe Hoffmann, WBS Sanctuary Manager, and Catherine Redfern, Director of Development were kind enough to give us the grand tour and patiently allow us to assist them in their day-to-day duties.  And wow, some of the things we got to do!

Me holding Sirrocco, a beautiful Peregrine Falcon
I was able to meet (and handle) Sirrocco, WBS’s resident peregrine falcon.  Severely injured after a head-on collision with a chain link fence, Sirrocco is now a permanent resident at the Sanctuary, helping to educate the public about raptors like himself.

Holding the three baby Kestrels 
At the animal hospital on the premises, we assisted the vet as she examined the  American kestrel chicks pictured above– three sisters who had fallen from their nest.  Kestrels are the tiniest North American falcon. (They were all just fine, by the way.)

Holding a baby Red-tailed Hawk 
I volunteered to hold this baby (yes, baby) Red-tailed Hawk while my sister carefully used a tweezers to feed him delicious mouse gizzards or livers or something gross like that – it was pretty bloody.

Attaching a creance line to a soon to be released Great Horned Owl
Creancing helps handlers to assess a bird’s flying (and landing) ability.  A long, lightweight tether is attached to the bird and they are allowed to fly in an open field.   The creance allows us to get the bird back after the test flight.  It’s an efficient way to determine a bird’s readiness for release or if more rehab is necessary.  Here, Joe prepares a Great Horned Owl for his test flight.

But now--the release of Red-tailed Hawk female--is the best part of the day, and possibly more than anything else embodies the mission of World Bird Sanctuary – replenishing the wild populations of these birds of prey.

“I’m ready.”

“Okay,” says Joe.   “Then…1…2…3!

Releasing Red-tailed Hawk. female 
My throw is awful, just awful.

Thankfully, Red-tailed Hawk, female, skillfully recovers, and quickly soars high above the meadow as hoped.  A bystander who has paused to watch the release applauds and we wave at him.

We quickly lose sight of her in the stand of trees nearby. As we gather our things to head back to the van, Joe stops in his tracks.


And then we hear it, barely discernible through the filter of the trees: that distinctive, high-pitched hawk call.  And then again…and again…and again.

Our little group chuckles as we muse about what she is saying in hawk-speak: Thank you! perhaps.  Or see ya later!  Or about time!  Or even bad throw, lady.  But of course, no one really knows for sure.

No one, that is, except red-tailed hawk, female.

Submitted by Lisa Minzer, Guest Author

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