Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Physical Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98037

Kevin Mack
Fear at Freedom's Door
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On July 22nd, 2004, a Red-tailed Hawk sat timidly at the back of a transport carrier and stared out at the world through an open door. Just a few seconds earlier, that door had been closed, and the hawk had been doing his best to force his way through it to the freedom beyond. The appearance of a human in front of the door had made him less certain about exiting, and he was now torn between his desire to break free and his fear of the being that had opened the door to allow him to do so. His fear was well founded; he had been held captive by humans for nearly two months, and he had no understanding of the reason for his temporary imprisonment. But now, with no physical barriers to contain him, only his own mental barrier was keeping him in captivity. I sat patiently and waited for the hawk's desire for freedom to overcome his fear of stepping through the open door.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk 04-1621 exits the carrier to find blue skies above.

Like so many of our patients, the story of this hawk's admission to PAWS starts on the shoulder of a road. On May 30th, a man driving through Olympia spotted the hawk lying alongside the highway. The bird's wings were spread out at odd angles, and it was unclear whether or not he was still alive. Luckily, the man decided to pull over and check. As he approached the hawk, he could see no movement, but the bird's blinking eye indicated that he still had some life left in him. The man wrapped the bird in a coat and took him to the Tacoma Animal Emergency Clinic. The next day, the hawk was transferred to PAWS Wildlife Center and entered into our database as Red-tailed Hawk 04-1621.

By the time hawk 04-1621 was admitted to PAWS, he was standing and alert. He was given a thorough physical examination during which significant swelling in his left shoulder was discovered. He was also found to be thin and dehydrated. He was tube fed rehydrating fluids to help correct the dehydration, and was scheduled to be radiographed the following day.

Radiographs of hawk 04-1621 taken on June 1st revealed that the shoulder swelling was the result of a fractured coracoid bone. The broken ends of the bone were well-aligned, and the bird was prescribed 2 weeks of cage rest to allow the coracoid to heal. All things considered, the hawk had been far more fortunate than most animals who are struck by

Red-tailed Hawk

Taking to the sky, the hawk quickly gains altitude.

a 2,500+ pound object traveling at 60(+) miles per hour. He was a very strong individual in both body and personality, and this served him well as he recovered over the following weeks.

By June 15th, the hawk's coracoid fracture was callused and stable. An entry in his chart for that day indicated that he was beginning to feel much better. It simply stated, "BAR- Very aggressive." BAR means "bright, alert, and responsive", and "very aggressive" means "I'm glad I was wearing thick gloves when I handled this bird". In addition to a marked improvement in behavior, hawk 04-1621 had also improved in body condition, having put on more than 100 grams of weight since his admission. His improving condition allowed him to graduate to a larger outdoor cage where he could stretch his wings and begin to exercise his recently healed shoulder.

Once outside, hawk 04-1621 made it very clear that he was still fully capable of flying, and that he would prefer to do it outside of a cage. He also made it clear that he did not enjoy the company of humans, and he would try his hardest to fly through a solid cage wall whenever a staff member would enter his aviary. Small gauze "bumpers" were attached to his carpal joints to prevent him from damaging his wings when he made these escape attempts. He was also brought inside on the 4th of July to ensure that he did not panic and injure himself when all of the random flashes and explosions started that evening. After July 4th, the hawk was placed in a large flight pen for his final pre-release conditioning. He gained strength quickly, and it was only a few weeks later that he was sitting inside the carrier on private land in Olympia trying to muster the courage to take back his life.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk 04-1621 fulfills his most pressing desire.

After watching the carrier for a minute or two, with no signs of movement from within, I began to become concerned. It was about 80 degrees outside, and the carrier was sitting in direct sunlight in the middle of large field. If the hawk didn't leave soon, he was liable to become overheated. After opening the carrier door, PAWS Wildlife Staff Member Cindy Kirkendall had moved behind the container where the hawk could no longer see her. I instructed Cindy to scratch very lightly on the back of the carrier. The scratching was just enough to encourage the hawk to move towards the front of the carrier, but not threatening enough to send him into a panic. His paralysis was broken, and he moved towards the open door.

Red-tailed Hawk 04-1621 hopped through the doorway and discovered a wide-open blue sky above him. He spread his wings and shed his frightened, captive persona in an instant. He gained altitude and banked off to the left, heading towards a distant stand of trees. He flew beautifully, and the sun shined brightly on his dark back and rust-colored tail. A few nearby crows protested the hawk's appearance, but he appeared to be unfazed by their criticism. For the first time since he had been injured, the hawk was able to fulfill his most pressing desire; a desire that was especially pronounced when humans were nearby. For nearly two months this bird had wanted nothing more than to simply spread his wings and fly away. On July 22nd, 2004, he did.

Wildlife Release tally: July 6th to July 20th, 2004

1 Virginia Opossum
3 Eastern Gray Squirrels
5 Canada Geese
3 Rock Pigeons
3 American Crows
4 Northern Flickers
7 House Finches
2 Band-tailed Pigeons
4 Townsends Chipmunks
13 Eastern Cottontails
3 Bank Swallows
1 Tree Swallow
2 Green Herons
12 House Sparrows
7 American Robins
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
3 Spotted Towhees
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl
1 Western Kingbird

Wildlife Release tally: 2004
532 animals

All rights reserved. 2004 Progressive Animal Welfare Society