On Christmas day, a young Red-tailed hawk was found on the shoulder of US101, near Redway, in southern Humboldt County. His rescuers kept him overnight, bringing him to our clinic, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center in Bayside the next day.
The juvenile hawk was in very poor condition – he’d lost 50% of his normal body mass and was also critically anemic. Had the bird died during transport from 70 miles away, had the bird died overnight his first day in care, or at any point in the first few days of treatment, it would have been sad, but we wouldn’t have been surprised.
Fortunately his attitude was astonishing and the emaciated young fellow lived. He not only lived, but he did so with gusto! As soon we deemed it safe for him to begin eating whole food, he was voracious. First only eating a few mice, soon he was eating two rats a day and putting on 30 or more grams at every daily weight check.
After a week in care, the trouble began.
First his left foot swelled badly. Along the side of his foot a newly opened wound began to ooze pus. This could have been a very bad development. A trip to the veterinarian to take x-rays and flush the wound revealed an infection but no injured bone. Still, we were disappointed that his recovery had an obstacle.
Within a day of this, the condition of his right foot also deteriorated. No swelling, but what we’d assumed to have been an old and healing wound incidental to his primary problems now was another source of concern. Antibiotics and wound care became part of the hawk’s daily treatment adding another layer of stress to his captivity.
After three weeks in care, we were dealt another setback. The skin over his crop (a sort of pre-stomach in his upper esophagus) split open.
While of course we would have preferred this not occur, the continuing appearance of major wounds revealed something very important: our patient had likely been electrocuted.
As raptor rehabilitators everywhere can attest, electrocution can be one of the most heartbreaking conditions. Life-threatening or fatal internal injuries take time to become apparent. After a week in care what had been healthy skin starts dying and sloughing off, toes suddenly turn black. Everything goes wrong and the patient dies.
In the case of this Red-tailed hawk, the wounds on his feet were probably where the current had entered his body when he perched on a transmission line near the freeway. The wound at his chest marked the current’s exit.
While these wounds were ugly, ultimately they were limited to skin and other soft tissue that healed quickly. Within two weeks, the crop wound and his feet had healed. He was strong, weighed twice what he had when we admitted him and, as was true from the moment he entered our care, he was extremely anxious to put some miles between himself and our helpful hands.
February 1, a Bird Ally X intern, along with the people who had first picked him up from the side of the road, took him back to Redway. Once the transport box was open, he launched toward the forest, the sky, and his free and wild life.
Your support allows us to care for these victims of industrial civilization. The modern world is filled with traps that wild animals, present on Mother Earth for millions of years, can’t recognize. With your help, we are able to provide skilled staff and appropriate facilities to nurse wild animals like this young hawk back to health, and give them another chance. Please contribute what you can. Thank you for being a part of this life saving work!
(photos: Laura Corsiglia and Bird Ally X)