Red-tail Tale

While working at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I got the chance to see the progress of many patients. Some prognoses were happy; some were not. One of my favorites was a Red-Tailed Hawk, #15-1805. This bird had a stubborn streak and would often refuse to fly when being exercised. We would often have to persuade it to continue laps in the flight pen during exercise by using a pool noodle. The bird would also complain by making high-pitched, chirping noises that were cute rather than threatening. When #15-1805 did fly, you could see an obvious wing tilt to the right. When I first began exercising raptors at the center, the bird would often bump into things like the walls or trees in its enclosure. The tilt was a result of a wing fracture that did not heal properly. At the time, I did not think the hawk would be releasable.

While I worked at the Center, #15-1805 was the only Red-Tailed there excluding Ruby, an education raptor. I learned a lot about them including some cool facts. Red-Tailed Hawks do not get red tails until two years of age. The call of the Red-Tailed Hawk is often used in movies and TV shows as the sound of the Bald Eagle. [Bald Eagle sounds are actually pretty inadequate for something that you would think of as free and majestic.] Red-Tailed Hawks were always a special bird to me since they were one of the first raptors I was able to identify as a child in Oklahoma. During long rides in the car, I would often try to spot them in tall trees, on fence posts or on billboards. I created a game of trying to count all of the hawks I saw during a car ride. Most of the hawks I did see were Red Tailed Hawks. Sometimes I would see them on the same perch. If I was lucky, I would see them descend down to strike something below them.

In the start of my externship, the future did not look so bright for #15-1805. I did not see the possibility for it to be a releasable raptor. Then, in April, came good weather and the chance to creance -- a falconry method during which a raptors is exercised in a large open space while attached to a line. We wanted to know if the bird would fly any better outside its enclosure. Would it do any better if there were fewer obstructions? Could the bird still stay in the air and build enough lift to rise once more? We creanced the bird twice. Once, with a small group of rehabbers, and a second time with most of the team. Even some of the other externs came to join us. There were so many people we had to squeeze into two vehicles. The hawk, of course, got to ride shotgun. Once at the creancing site, many of the students got to take part in the creancing. We were all pleasantly surprised how well the bird did. The bird’s endurance was much better the second time and the wing tilt was less noticeable. I now see a possibly brighter future for 15-1805.

WCV Class of 2016

**Editor's note: The hawk had a very prolonged rehabilitation; at the end of November, it was transferred to another wildlife rehabilitator for continued care in a large flight pen.