Sunday, 17 June 2012

Birds of a Feather

If you don't know me personally and haven't gathered by reading my posts, I am an animal person. I have worked with animals of all sizes since college where I helped to take care of the biology department's office frog and tarantula my freshman year. Most of the time I lived in Florida I worked or volunteered with animals, often in a rescue, rehab situation. So when I get together with my friends were are talking about our pets or exploring the outdoors and local wildlife. So it should come to no surprise that when my friend R came down to visit we got ourselves involved with a little rescue work.

We had no plans of animal adventures that afternoon. In the morning she had to do some work in the area and we were able to coordinate her visit with her work. She gave her talk about sea turtles and my husband and I were able to tag along as she was toured around the rehab facilities of CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife). Once we left we thought that was he end of our animal adventures aside from a bit if bird watching.

We came back to the room and watched the England match of the UEFA Eurochampionships then we set out for a bike ride. After cycling nearly 7 miles we stopped for an ice-cream at the Blue Giraffe in Periwinkle Place. As we were leaving I noticed the car speeding through the parking lot. I remember thinking "he is in the wrong place if he wants to go fast". Not only was he in a parking lot, he is on an island that is a tourist haven and the fastest speed limit on any of the roads is 35 MPH.

Behind me R was looking across the road into the church lot. She had seen something on the ground that could have been a branch blown down or an injured bird. She called ahead to see if I had seen it. I had not, so I turned around and all 3 of us went to investigate. It was not a branch, it was an injured hawk, they do not typically sit on the ground. It also appeared he was not tucking his wings properly.

We quickly crossed the street as I formulated a plan. I sent my husband 2 miles by bicycle to the condo. He is 15 inches taller than me, so in my mind the faster cyclist. I asked him to bring back a towel to protect me when I caught it. He quickly set off once he was sure he had the key.

R and myself kept our distance and observed the bird. I took a few pictures to see if I could determine what had happened to it. It appeared that its nictitating membranes (or third eyelids) were up. Normally these only close for protection, not for normal activity.

While we waited, the wind began to pick up as a possible afternoon thunderstorm approached. While it cooled us down it seemed to energize the hawk a bit. He positioned himself head into the wind and opened his wings and began to flap. While he gained a little lift from the winds, he could not sustain flight.

While I would rather see the hawk fly away, R and I were thankful it did not catch air at this time. The eyelids up meant he was not healthy and flying away would just prolong his suffering. He needed to get into rehabilitative care as quickly as possible. We tried to observe from a less threatening position (we were already +15 ft away) but the hawk made it difficult on us. He attempted to fly again. This time it appeared he was not steady on his feet as if he possibly injured a leg. He was now along the edge of the landscaped portion of the driveway. I looked down at my watch and by the time I looked back up, he had disappeared. Since he could not fly the increasing winds seemed to unsettle the bird. He had just walked into the ornamental grasses. R headed around the vegetation to prevent him from getting into the denser woods just beyond the ornamental plants that lined the driveway while I kept an eye on him, not ready to turn my gaze and loose him again. While he moved deeper into the plants, he settled along a large tree root where it appeared he was sheltered from the wind.

Meantime, the wind was picking up and an afternoon thunderstorm seemed inevitable. I hoped my husband made it to the condo before it hit...and was back to our position before we were having to catch this hawk in the rain.

Since the bird seemed content against this root, R kept watch and I headed back to my bike to collect my camera and my cell phone. No sooner did I pick up my bag, did the phone ring. It was my husband letting us know he was in the car on the way back. He had 2 beach towels, a sheet, and a laundry basket. He was also bringing the bike lock so that we could leave the bikes at Periwinkle Place for an extended time if we needed to. Well done hubby, we will make an animal rescuer out of you in no time!

I let R know he would be here soon and we started to discuss the next part of the plan. We decided the bike basket might be easier than the laundry basket to contain the bird for a short trip, especially in the car. I had no idea how he was going to react and if he was going to resist restraint, having less room to move would be better. The laundry basket may help over the top of the bike basket if we needed a "lid", we would wait to see the birds reaction to capture. We did realize that once I caught him, I probably would not be able to safely let go.

When my husband arrived, we collected supplies from the trunk and removed my bike basket. I folded one towel in the bottom of the basket and held on to the other. My husband started running bikes across the street while R and I prepared ourselves for the capture.

I slowly moved in, walked into the vegetation, and watched the hawks reaction to my movement. He tilted his head towards me but did not move away. The wind was making it difficult to handle the towel, and for a split second I thought about making the capture bare handed. That idea quickly passed when that head turned and I was reminded of how sharp his beak was. I folded the towel in half and determined the next step. While I wanted to cover and grab at the same time, the low shrubs were going to make that difficult, and I did not want to have to do this twice. So I placed the towel over and covered the hawk completely. I was then able to pick him up from behind, talons and beak away from me. We placed him in the bike basket and I was in the back seat of the car. It all went so quickly and smoothly that I was not optimistic about his condition.

We decided CROW clinic was the next stop, even if they were closed. If no one was around, R could access a number of animal carriers and we would be able to properly contain him overnight.

The clinic was quiet when we arrived. Although the interns live in student housing on property, we did not disturb them. We picked a carrier in which we hoped the hawk would be able to stand up, put it in the car, and headed back to the condo.

Once we got there, we closed ourselves into the screened balcony and we moved the hawk from the bike basket to the animal carrier. He stood up and moved himself to a comfortable position, a good sign. As we were placing the carrier on the floor he even pecked at the side of the carrier, another good sign. We covered the carrier with a towel and set a chair on top of everything. There he would wait until morning when the rehab clinic opened again.

I went out to the balcony twice to check on him before driving him to CROW Clinic after they opened at 8am. We did the best we could, his fate was out of our hands now. Hopefully his ability to get through the night was a good sign for his future.

R had some things to pick up from CROW Clinic this morning before leaving the island, so my husband and I tagged along with her. We were there to help of there was no one to help with the heavy items, but we had ulterior motives! I wanted to know how the hawk was doing. In the past I was usually assisting the veterinarian with the long term care of the patient until its release or placement, dropping it off with no further care involved seemed a bit strange. Good news so far, he was placed on antibiotics and seems to be holding his own so far. I have done rehab long enough to know you can never think an animal is out of the woods, that is when they give up. I can't lie though, I was pleased he wasn't put to sleep upon admission and made it through another night!


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