Giving Me the Runaround
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
Red-tailed Hawk 04-3402 does not have a particularly unusual story, but
his behavior upon release was somewhat unusual, at least in my
experience. The bird arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center on August 6th,
2004, after being found on the ground in a Lynnwood backyard. His
initial examination revealed that he had suffered a soft tissue injury
in one of his wings, and blood samples that were sent to a lab revealed
some abnormalities. Over the course of a few months, both the hawk's
wing, and his blood values returned to normal. He passed all of his
pre-release tests with ease, and on November 20th his release day
arrived. His release, although successful, was not exactly what I had
I've released a fair number of Red-tailed Hawks, and the releases tend
to be reasonably predictable. Usually, shortly after the carrier door
is opened, the hawk bursts out and either flies out of sight, or lands
in a nearby tree. Less frequently, the hawk needs a little extra
encouragement to exit the carrier, but a light scratching noise on the
back of the container is usually enough to set the bird in motion.
There are always exceptions, however, and Red-tailed Hawk 04-3402 had
his own ideas as to how his release should go. The story of his release
is one that is best told with the assistance of photos.
Meet Red-tailed Hawk 04-3402. In this photo, taken about one
week before he was released, the hawk is attempting to make
himself look as large and intimidating as possible. He is also
saving me the trouble of catching him to get a look at the
condition of his flight feathers.
On November 20th, Red-tailed Hawk 04-3402 was returned to
the property on which he was found. His release carrier was
positioned so that he would have a view of a long gravel
driveway that was bordered by a patch of forest. This would
allow him a good stretch of open space in which to take off
and gain altitude. After opening the carrier door and waiting
several minutes, I moved around to the front of the container
to check on him. This photo shows what I saw.
I moved around to the back of the carrier and lightly scratched
on the back. The hawk exited with his wings spread, but rather
than flapping he just held them up and ran.
After moving about 10 feet down the drive, the hawk stopped
and looked to his right.
Seeing no walls to his right, the hawk turned his head to see
what was on his left. He then spread his wings and... again
After a short sprint to his right, hawk 04-3402 stopped on a
nearby grassy area. He looked to his right once more, as if he
couldn't believe what he was seeing...
...He then looked back at me as if he needed some guidance,
or an explanation.
He turned and ran back towards the gravel driveway. His wings
began to spread. Was he about to take to the sky?
Nope. He stopped and stared down the driveway for several
more minutes. It was clear by this point though, that the
significance of what he was seeing was beginning to dawn on
him. He stopped looking at his immediate surroundings, and
began to focus further in the distance.
Finally realizing that he could go wherever he pleased, the
hawk put his wings to good use.
After flying about 50 yards, the hawk made a soft landing in
the branches of an alder tree.
Once he had landed, the hawk turned to face me. In this photo
he is in the middle of shaking himself to realign his feathers.
Hawk 04-3402 flew again, and landed on a branch that was
about 15 feet higher than his previous perch.
Safely on a high perch, the hawk was no longer concerned
with my presence. He turned his back to me and surveyed the
home he had not seen for more than three months. I wished
the hawk well, returned to my truck, and left him enjoy his
Wildlife Release tally: November 17th to November 30th, 2004
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl
8 Virginia Opossums
1 Dark-eyed Junco
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Red-tailed Hawks
1 House Finch
1 White-winged Scoter
1 Glaucous-winged Gull
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
All rights reserved. ©2004 Progressive Animal Welfare Society