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A New Life Begins in an Unlikely Setting

by Kevin Mack - PAWS Wildlife Naturalist


At 1 p.m. on March 26, PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitator Nicki Rosenhagen, Facilities Caretaker Jim Green and I were standing in a large, grassy field surrounded by tall fir trees. Lake Ballinger was visible to the north. To the east, west and south, neat rows of gravestones stretched into the distance. Although we were standing in a cemetery, we were not there to mourn a tragic loss. A medium-sized dog crate nearby held the reason for our being there. Our business was with the living, not the dead, and our mood was celebratory rather than somber.

This story actually begins more than two months earlier when a father and son found a young Red-tailed Hawk lying on the ground at the south end of Lake Ballinger. The hawk was so weak that she did not attempt to escape when they approached. Recognizing the bird needed help, the two caring humans placed her in a box and brought her to the PAWS Wildlife Center.

The hawk's initial examination did not give us much hope for her survival. Although she did not have any apparent injuries, she was extremely emaciated and severely anemic. The results of the bird's initial blood tests were nearly so bad as to be considered incompatible with life, but the hawk was still holding on. She was given IV fluids and placed on an emaciated bird of prey feeding schedule.
 
Picture from Wild Again
Wildlife Rehabilitator Nicki Rosenhagen smiles as the Red-tailed Hawk regains her freedom.
Feeding a normal diet right away is often fatal for starving animals. Their digestive systems are not working properly and they have very little energy to spare to digest food. The emaciated feeding schedule starts with an easily digestible liquid diet and slowly progresses to solid food to allow the animal's stressed digestive system time to adjust. Depending on what else is going on physiologically with the animal, even this approach may not be successful, but in the case of this young hawk it was truly life-saving.

After the hawk survived the first 48 hours, hope for her recovery began to grow. She had given up lying on the bottom of her cage in favor of standing on a low perch. Additional diagnostics had turned up a blood parasite and two intestinal parasites, possible contributors to her debilitated state for which she could be treated. At the end of the first week, she had completed her progression to solid food, she had put on weight and her anemia had drastically improved. She eventually graduated to an outdoor cage and then a large flight pen to recondition her muscles for flight.
 
Picture from Wild Again
The hawk assesses her surroundings at her release.
The hawk was not completely out of the woods yet. The amount of time she had been grounded had taken a toll on her feet, and a few sores had developed that required attention from PAWS’ wildlife veterinarian. These healed nicely as the hawk spent more time flying in the flight pen and by March 26 she was ready to go.

After Jim, Nicki and I took a quick look around to note the location of the nearest crows (as they would be likely to harass the hawk after she was released), Nicki opened the dog crate door. The healthy, energetic bird who emerged would have been unrecognizable to anyone who had seen her two months ago. It was amazing, knowing how close to death she had been, to see the vibrant, vital being she had become. She wasted no time spreading her wings and flying strongly and confidently into the branches of a nearby fir. A pair of crows flew in close to voice their disapproval of the hawk, but they didn't seem to be fully invested in the protest and mostly kept their distance. After spending a few moments getting her bearings, the hawk took flight again and disappeared into a thick stand of trees to the west.
Picture from Wild Again
After getting her bearings, the hawk disappeared into a stand of trees to the west.




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