“Something Going On in that Tree”
Guest Blog by Wahneta Dimmer
Todd and I sat at the breakfast table – coffee for me and a coca cola for him – looking out the sliding glass doors at the backyard and out into the park beyond. As he half read the newspaper Todd said, “Hey, look in the tree, there is a big bird sitting on that lower branch.” It took me a minute to find the object he was focusing on but sure enough, there in the early morning light, sat a large bird shadowed by snow-covered branches. We are accustomed to having many small birds visit our feeders throughout the winter but to see a predatory bird is rare. And so low and close to the house, seemingly eyeing the park for prey, is exceptional! We watched for a while before going on about our morning.
Both the kids were spending their third day home from school, recovering from a winter virus, not too sick to stay in bed but just miserable enough to lay low. Kael was standing at the same sliding glass doors when he excitedly exclaimed, “There is a fight or something going on in that tree, Mom.” I told him about the large bird his dad and I had seen earlier in the morning. As we watched, snow was flying out of the upper branches and cascading downward. Kael imagined the bird duking it out with a squirrel! Suddenly, the bird dropped from the tree and flopped into the snow. I said to Kael that it looked like a red-tailed hawk. He wasn’t sure he agreed but we thought we should investigate.
Reconnaissance, Research and Rescue
We both hastily bundled up and headed out across the backyard. As we approached the landing zone, the bird jumped away dragging a wing with him. Kael and I agreed on two things: positively a red-tailed hawk and clearly, injured. Knowing any attempt to get closer would exhaust its remaining reserves, we retreated to the house and called for backup. Kael researched online what to do with an injured raptor and settled on the RARE program. According to their website, the program focuses on rescue, triage and long term medical treatment of injured, sick and distressed raptors. Todd and the kids asked for advice on how to gently capture the bird and safely transfer it to the Iowa City facility. They settled on a wool blanket and dog carrier and as the best options.
True to February in Iowa, it was sunny and brisk with temperatures in the mid 30s and a breeze that made you think is was much cooler. Todd, Kael and Ava headed out into the park just after lunch to relocate the missing, injured raptor. The guys went to the right toward the ball diamond while Ava intuitively chose to head out the gate to the left. Within minutes, Ava located the injured hawk resting at the base of a crab apple tree. She called the guys over, and taking the advice of the RARE associate, they got just close enough to toss the wool blanket gently over the hawk and then Todd scooped him up! The poor bird was so cold and tired, he didn’t even fuss when they put him in the dog carrier, covered him up again and closed the door. As they drove to Iowa City, they wondered aloud what had happened to it and whether it would recover.
When they arrived at RARE, rehabilitator, Nikki Herbst, greeted them, assessed the newest arrival, determining it probably was a male hawk, and told them about what the rehab center does. She even introduced them to some of the permanent residents, those too injured to be released into the wild. “Miss Nikki” wasn’t too optimistic as she assessed the hawk. It seemed too weak to stand on its own, much less eat.
She was kind enough to award the kids with a RARE Wildlife Champion Award and thanked them for their service. Her parting words were, “No news is good news,” meaning she would only call us if he died. If he were to be released, it would be done with discretion at the same place that the bird was found.
Five weeks later, much to our surprise, we received a joyous call from “Miss Nikki.” She was eager to share the news that our hawk rescue was successful, and he was ready to be released. She wondered if we would like to participate?! She went on to say that he was back to his feisty self and flying around the indoor enclosure as high to the ceiling as he could. He was completely recovered from his injury, a broken femur! We agreed on a time with the place predetermined, the park – just outside our backyard.
After a few family pictures and with the hawk in a box, “Miss Nikki” coaxed the Red-Tailed Hawk from his cardboard carrier and invited him to see again the park and his home. With a count of one, two and three, she encouraged him into the air and off he flew. He paused for a moment at the top of an oak tree before taking off across the park.
Three cheers for the Red-Tailed Hawk, for lessons learned and for good deeds done!
We have a RARE chance to help out: The Raptor Advocacy Rehabilitation & Education (RARE) is based out of Iowa City and is a 501c3 organization. For more information please visit their website at www.theraregroup.org
Photo Journey of Release