Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003

Admission Date: 
January 2, 2012
Release Date: 
March 6, 2012
Location of Rescue: 
Page County, Virginia
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Found unable to fly
Patient Status: 
Patient Archive

On January 1, 2012, an adult Red-tailed Hawk was rescued from a barn in Page County, Virginia.  When the hawk, patient #12-003, was admitted to the Wildlife Center on January 2, it displayed symptoms of lead poisoning. 

The hawk was weak and was unable to stand; its body condition and tattered feathers suggested that it was on the ground for a period of time before being rescued. Dr. Miranda Sadar performed an initial examination of the Red-tailed Hawk and her findings supported her suspicions that the hawk was suffering from toxic levels of lead in its blood—rendering it too weak to fly. Its feet were scabbed and the feathers around its vent were caked in feces, suggesting that it was on the ground for a long period of time. An in-house lead test taken the same day revealed that the hawk was suffering from lead toxicity, at a level of .26 ppm. This is the third case of lead-poisoning the Center has admitted this week. The hawk was immediately given a chelation treatment for the lead poisoning, but for now #12-003 remains too weak to undergo radiographs. If it continues to recover, the hawk should have a series taken on the weekend of January 7. The radiographs will allow the Center’s veterinarians the opportunity to see if any lead pellets are inside the bird or if it is suffering from any other maladies as well.

The Red-tailed Hawk is currently in an enclosure in the Center’s hospital. Because the hawk still cannot stand, the Center’s rehabilitators have placed a supportive “donut” in its enclosure on which the bird currently lays. The hawk has not lost an appreciable amount of weight since it arrived, even though it has been too weak to eat, and it will now be hand-fed by the Center’s rehabilitation staff until it is able to eat on its own.

January 9 update

Dr. Miranda took a series of radiographs on Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 on January 7; she did not see any pellets inside the bird.  The hawk also received its last dose of chelation therapy that morning.  On January 8, the hawk's lead levels were re-tested; results came back at a much lower .034 ppm. The hawk is very slowly making progress; while Dr. Miranda is still quite guarded about the hawk's prognosis, she was encouraged to see the hawk standing in its enclosure on the morning of January 9.  After the bird was caught up for morning treatments and returned to its enclosure, the hawk laid back down -- but that's to be expected for a weak bird expending that much energy.  The rehabilitation staff continue to hand-feed the Red-tailed Hawk.

January 13 update

The veterinary team continues to hand-feed Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 each day, as the bird has not yet eaten on its own.  However, Dr. Miranda reports that the hawk was standing in its crate this morning -- an encouraging sign.  Another lead test will be run on the weekend of January 14 to ensure that lead levels did not rise after chelation therapy ended last week.

January 17 update

Another lead test was run on Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 on January 14.  With an elevated result of .071 ppm, Dr. Miranda started the hawk on another round of chelation therapy.  While the hawk still won't eat on its own, it is regularly standing in its enclosure and has been fairly bright and alert.  After the next five-day course of chelation therapy, the hawk's lead levels will be checked again.

January 20 update

Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 underwent another lead test this morning and the results were encouraging: the hawk’s lead level registered “low”, which means it has less than .033 ppm. Although the hawk still has not consumed any food on its own, it has responded well to hand-feeding and has gained a little weight since arriving. It continues to stand on its own.

February 1 update

Since Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 has been bright, alert, and standing over the past couple of weeks, the veterinarians decided that it was time to move this bird into a small outdoor enclosure.  The hawk still is not eating on its own -- but the veterinary staff hope that being outside may stimulate the bird's appetite.  On January 31, the hawk was moved into the Center's "metal cage complex" -- an outdoor building with many small, metal enclosures inside.   The hawk is not quite ready to graduate into a larger space yet. Another lead test was performed on January 31. This test came back with a reading of 0.036 ppm -- a very slight increase from the January 20 "low reading".  Another lead test will be performed on February 7.

February 7 update

Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003's condition remains mostly unchanged. The hawk is still in the Wildlife Center's "metal cage complex" and it has yet to eat on its own. The Center's rehabilitation staff continue to hand-feed the hawk outside every day after first waiting to see if it will eat a meal on its own. The Red-tailed Hawk was also tested for lead again this morning and the result was slightly lower than last week's at .034 ppm. This is just above the "low" reading. The Center's veterinary staff will test #12-0003's lead levels again in two weeks.

February 10 update

On Thursday, February 9, Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 was moved from its outdoor enclosure in the metal cage complex to a C-pen -- one of the Center's intermediate outdoor enclosures. The Center's veterinary and rehabilitation staff hope that the move will help stimulate the hawk's appetite and they plan on closely monitoring the bird in the larger space over the next few days. The hawk is still not eating on its own and it remains scheduled for another lead level test in a little less than two weeks.

5:30 p.m. Rehabilitator Suzy dropped off food for the Red-tailed Hawk this evening; she placed a small rat on the bird's perch.  As she left the enclosure, she turned around to look at the bird -- and saw it lean over and pick up the rat!  The bird ate on its own for the first time in 39 days.

February 17 update

Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 has continued to eat on its own since Friday, February 10. Adding to this encouraging news are the results of the latest lead test that was performed on February 13 which registered a “low” reading. This means there are less than .033 ppm in the hawk’s blood. Although the lead level is still at risk of increasing again in the future, the “low” results were received as good news by the Center’s hospital staff, and on February 16, the Center’s veterinarians recommended that the Red-tailed Hawk be moved into one of the Center’s larger outdoor flight pens.   Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 is scheduled for another lead test on March 12, and, as of now, it has not been scheduled for any exercise. However, the Center’s rehabilitation team reported this morning that when they were exercising the bird in a neighboring flight pen, #12-0003 was flying between its perches!

February 27 update

Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 began daily exercises with the Center's rehabilitation staff last week, and by the end of the week it was making as many as 16 trips between its perches without showing any visible sign of tiring. This continued improvement led the Center's veterinary staff to recommend that the hawk begin live-prey testing later this week. If the hawk is able to pass "mouse school", then it should soon be a candidate for release.

March 2 update

After a successful course of “mouse school”, Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 has been cleared for release!  The hawk will be released at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, March 5 at Shenandoah River Park in Shenandoah, VA. This release is open to the public – for those who would like to attend the release, plan on meeting in the parking area at River Park just before 11:00 a.m.  WCV staff member Lacy Kegley will be on hand for the hawk release.   [Because of a spring snowstorm, the release was rescheduled for Tuesday, March 6 at 3:00 p.m.] This will be our first lead-positive bird release of 2012!

March 6 update

Red-tailed Hawk #12-0003 was released on March 6 in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at Shenandoah River Park in Shenandoah, VA.   Center staffer Lacy Kegley, who released the bird, reported that the bird flew off "strongly and beautifully" -- flying up into a tree, hopping to another branch, and then flying off -- out of sight.     

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