Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hung Up

The other day we received a phone call from a gentleman who claimed that while hiking the woods behind his home he and his children had seen a hawk dangling from a tree by one leg. He hadn’t been able to get close enough to tell if there was something tangled up on the leg or what it could be which made the assessment of the situation much more difficult.

He described that it was fairly wooded in and the ground was quite moist from the freezing and thawing streak we had been experiencing. And the bird was several feet from the tree trunk and 15 to 20 feet above the ground. I was at a loss. Even in the winter we are often too busy to send a staff member out for a rescue, and rely on volunteers to assist us with these situations. But how was I going to pin-point a volunteer able to attempt this feat?

Right away we contacted our volunteers who specialize in baby owl re-nesting since they have the equipment needed to climb high trees to put owlets back into their nests. When one finally notified us that he would be available I contacted the caller back to get an update on the situation.

The story gets interesting at this point because the children in the family reported that the hawk had by this point been able to right itself onto the branch but still no one had been able to get a good enough view to discern what, if anything, had caused the bird to be tangled up and hanging from the tree. They suggested that it had been hanging of it’s own accord by its talons, but this is not a normal behavior for hawks so I was still very concerned that the bird was wedded to the tree somehow.

We had a volunteer who wasn’t experienced in owl re-nesting, but who happened to live close by, go out to the site to visit with the callers and see if he could get any more information on the birds (another bird, presumably a mate, had shown up on the scene at this point). When he called back and informed us that not only had both birds “flown the coop” but that he had been shown the pictures taken when the bird was first sighted and it appeared that it had been hanging by its talon; everyone was shocked.

It didn’t take long before someone postulated that there was really no reason to be confused by the situation because there was a simple answer that no one had yet thought of…

It may seem cold and frigid to most of us, but for our wild neighbors love is in the air. Squirrels are performing acrobatics in the trees, the groundhogs are starting to stir in their burrows, and the owls and hawks are starting to seek out their mates and claim their nesting territories. I’ve never seen, but have heard, that when hawks are courting they can be witnessed doing some pretty amazing stunts like grasping talons and falling out of the sky. I’ve heard it described as appearing as though they are “fighting.”

A face only a mother Red-tail could love???

What likely happened, and this really is the best way this story could’ve ended, is that during one of this pairs’ “stunts” one of the hawks lost control and fell into the tree, perhaps grasping the limb to keep from continuing to the ground. We don’t know how long the hawk was there before the family discovered it, perhaps it was a coincidence that they happened along just after it occurred. Once the bird, with its amazing agility, was able to right itself it probably just needed a few moments for the shock to wear off, with its mate there ready to lead it off again. We are VERY glad that there wasn’t anything hanging the bird up and wish these two a happy and successful year. For those poor birds who DO get caught up on wire, string and other debris left behind by humans please keep the following in mind:
  • Nets for outdoor games should always be taken in or down when not in use
  • Fishing line, especially with lures or bait still attached, should never be left behind
  • Kite strings and other types of strings should always be wound up and tied off before discarding

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