Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
Cooper's Hawks are extremely agile fliers. I have often been amazed by their ability to fly at top speed through what appear to be impenetrable tangles of branches. This ability serves them well as they pursue the small birds on which they prefer to prey. They frequently use the stealthy approach, appearing as if from out of nowhere to snatch an unwary songbird from its perch. Often they are detected on approach, and the encounter turns into a spectacular aerial chase that requires the larger, heavier hawk to match the maneuvers of the smaller, lighter prey move for move. While watching Cooper's Hawks Pursue small birds through the forest, I have nearly been convinced that they somehow have the ability to fly through solid objects; however, in my work at PAWS I am presented with constant reminders that this is, in fact, not the case.
On July 31st, 2004, a Cooper's Hawk was hunting in a backyard in Kenmore. He spotted a small songbird and gave chase. Terrified, the songbird attempted to escape the hawk, and flew hard towards nearby cover. The hawk was faster. He quickly overtook the songbird and snatched it out of the air. At this point something went terribly wrong.
In a complete blur of feathers, the Cooper's Hawk bursts out of the transport carrier.
Upon admission to PAWS, Cooper's Hawk 04-3275 was alternating between lying flat on his stomach and standing up. No obvious injuries were found during his initial exam, but he was clearly suffering from head trauma. A day later, the hawk was standing, walking, and perching, but he would frequently lose his balance. He had flown at full speed directly into an immovable object. It wasn't at all surprising that it would take a few days for him to regain his senses. By the fourth day, his balance issue had resolved, and it was time to see if the hawk was still capable of flying.
On August 3, hawk 04-3275 was test flown in an outside aviary. Although he was able to fly, his flight pattern was erratic and he seemed to be having difficulty seeing the walls of the pen. He was recaptured, and his eyes were examined. During the examination, it appeared that the hawk was unable to see out of his right eye. His eyes were physically intact, so it was believed that the vision problem was associated with swelling related to the head trauma. The hawk was rechecked periodically over the following 10 days, and by August 13th he had fully regained the vision in his right eye. After another week in an outdoor flight pen, he was ready to go.
As I stood in hawk 04-3275's cage on August 21st, the bird again nearly convinced me that Cooper's Hawks can fly through solid objects. In this case, the solid object he appeared to be flying through was my net. The hawk was doing his best impression of a ping-pong ball, bouncing from one corner of the cage to another in a frantic attempt to evade capture. It took several tries, but I eventually scooped the hawk out of the air with the net.
Perched on a high branch, the Cooper's Hawk takes in his surroundings.
On the way to the release site, the hawk protested his continued captivity by doing everything in his power to escape from the transport box. As I drove, the sound of wings flapping and talons scraping on cardboard periodically emanated from the back seat. Although I knew the box would hold him, I still found myself glancing back over my shoulder regularly, just to make sure. After 15 minutes had passed, and with the hawk still safely contained, I pulled into the parking area at the release site. I grabbed the box and headed to a nearby patch of forest where I could finally allow the hawk to do what he had been trying to do during the entire car ride.
I sat the box on the ground in a densely wooded area near a creek. The hawk had intensified his escape efforts, and the transport container rocked and bounced as if it was possessed by an angry spirit. I quickly opened the box and a confusion of feathers burst forth. The blurry apparition that erupted from the box streaked into the forest, dodging up, down, left, and right to avoid branches and other obstacles in its path. It came to rest on a high branch, and rematerialized into the shape of a Cooper's Hawk. A cacophony of little voices erupted from the trees around the hawk; alarm calls from a dozen species echoing through the forest. The commotion quickly faded away as the small birds that had sounded the alarm fled the area. The hawk was left in peace to survey his surroundings from his high perch. My part in this drama was over, so I grabbed the transport box and prepared to leave. I looked back over my shoulder to take one last look at the hawk, but he was gone. Not a single disturbed twig or leaf betrayed the direction in which he had departed. Support Wild Beings by Supporting the "Wild Things"
This year's PAWSwalk will be Saturday, October 2nd, 2004 at Sand Point Magnuson Park in Seattle.
PAWSwalk benefits all of the animals that PAWS cares for through sponsorships, registrations and pledges. If you would like to join PAWS Naturalist Kevin Mack on team "Wild Things", or make a pledge to support the team click here.
Wildlife Release tally: August 4th to August 17th, 2004
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
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