It’s time to look back on 2013! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2013 from the staff, students, and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.
Creancing. I had no idea what my boss was talking about. I had never heard the word before in my life, but Amber was telling me that it could be the solution to a very seriously fat Red-tailed Hawk we were dealing with at the time. This was back when I was finishing up my eight-week externship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia in the spring, on my very last day to be precise. I was feeling pretty sad to be leaving the mountains, friends, and animals that I had come to love over the last two months, but I was excited to be learning one more rehab technique before leaving.
This hawk was very special. He came to us in terrible body condition, which as you can probably guess did not allow for him to be the greatest flier. A “good” flier, or a bird that has been flight-conditioned enough to survive in the wild, can easily fly from one end of the enclosure to the other about 15-20 times with feet tucked, wings fully extended, and great maneuvering/perching skills (this changes depending on species).
Now that you have a picture of what a good flier looks like, you can compare it to what this specific hawk was doing. I would enter his enclosure: no movement. I would slowly inch closer while clapping: nothing. I would jump a little: that finally got him to fly, but the hawk tried to grab at the ceiling and couldn’t hold on so he fell to the ground. This type of “exercise” continued for some time as I pulled out all my exercising techniques, including making weird noises, rustling gravel, maybe some dancing (all on Critter Cam, of course) and I maybe got five good passes out of the bird before he stubbornly opened his wings in defensive mode, not budging.
On my last day, we were a bit apprehensive about the outcome of creancing this hawk. Regardless, with the hawk in hand, Amber, a group of externs, and I went out to give this bird a try. We arrived at a park and walked out to a huge, open field. The weather was beautiful – sunny and crisp, with not a cloud in the sky. We were surrounded by the amazing blue mountainous horizon.
Amber got the bird ready. She fitted the temporary jesses to the hawk and then attached the line to the jesses. While one extern held tightly onto the spool, another person used her whole body to toss the hawk into the air, though that was easier said than done. Marissa, one of the externs, tried first. The hawk went right to the ground. Another extern tried … same outcome. We were all starting to lose hope about this bird’s ability to fly. Amber then took the hawk. With everything she had, she tossed the bird straight up into the air – and he flew! It was one of the most inspirational, goose bump-rising moments. We had spent months trying everything to get this bird to fly, and finally, this hawk was back where he belonged -- in the sky. It was all good from there: we would toss the hawk, he flew, we retrieved him, and repeat. Perfect last day.
I chose this moment to share because for me it perfectly explains what WCV represents. Despite this hawk’s fate looking grim, everyone at WCV gives all animals, big or small, the best chance at survival. We never gave up, we tried every possible avenue, came up with new solutions, and we did this for every animal until we couldn’t anymore. Wildlife rehab can be tough and victories are often small, like seeing that hawk fly for the first time in months. But you live for those moments because you know you are one step closer in potentially giving that animal its life back.
Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!