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loose hawk!

October 7, 2010

On Tuesday, I cleaned out part of ward I. That is our intensive care hospital cage unit – three rows of stainless steel cages lining two walls. These cages are used for housing injured animals that shouldn’t yet be moving around too much. The other animals we have in these smaller cages are undergoing a rabies quarantine – such as a mink that was brought in some weeks ago – it will be kept for several months in its cage before we can test it and release it. I didn’t know we had any minks in this area. I’d never seen one before. It looks like a brown ferret.

There are 2 Red Tail Hawks (the largest hawks we have in our area) in separate cages in Ward I. One hawk had already been moved, and I moved the other. We have to move them to clean cages, and then clean out the ones they’ve dirtied.

Hawks shit everywhere – they projectile poop – and make very stinky messes! We have 2 Great Horned Owls in two separate cages in ward I, and they are easier to move than the hawks, and MUCH easier to clean up after. It is only in the flight cages that Great Horned Owls are hard to deal with than big hawks. In the large hawk flight cage, the hawks will fly at us sometimes, bump us with their wings, and even slam into us, but are not, for the most part, trying to hurt us. I’ve only been in danger a few times in there – when the hawks came at me with the intent to harm. Usually, the hawks just try to scare us. The owls do not play around. When they fly at us, they try to injure us. Ouch!

The hawk in ward I that I was trying to move was in a cage slightly higher than eye level. I am 6’3″ – so the cage was fairly high, but I didn’t feel the need to get a stool. Frankly, I was worried about not getting a good grip on the bird, being stressed by this, and falling off the stool. So, I made the safer choice.

But, I still did not get a good grip on the hawk!

I’ve almost never let go of animals in ward I. There was an occasion some years back when I let go of a juvenile green heron, and that bird took off running! Little and fast! Also, with herons, cranes, egrets, and similar, it is VERY important to hold them correctly, because they go right for the eyes. That is how they kill their prey. This little heron didn’t get near my eyes, just ran down the hall squawking and took a little while to catch. I think I might have used a net.

I also let go of a kestrel, but that didn’t worry me. Kestrels are very small falcons – about the size of scrub jays, and not aggressive. It took a little while to catch the kestrel with a net, but I was not in danger.

Letting go of a Red Tail Hawk is a different matter!

Fortunately, it did not try to flap up to a high shelf in the room and then land on me. It instead went for the open door. Our main building is a remodeled house with a main hallway and several rooms. The hawk coasted along the ground, mostly running. I think it realized its wingspan was too large to fly in the hall. Judging by its size, I am guessing this one is female – the females are larger than the males.

The hawk headed into the treatment room, with me giving chase. I bet the girl working on another animal in that room was surprised to see a large hawk running through the doorway. The bird hid in a corner underneath a shelf. This was actually a good thing.

We have many thick gloves of different sizes. All are made of leather, with some form of lining. With hawks and most of the other larger birds, I use special suede gloves that have a thick inner lining made of sheepskin, and are reinforced with kevlar – the same material used to make bullet-proof vests for cops and soldiers. There’s only a little kevlar in the gloves, but it helps! Also, the gloves not only cover the hands, but forearms as well, almost to the elbow.

I got on my knees and reached both hands toward the hawk and let it sink its talons into the gloves – no pain, no worries. Strange feeling, though. I was then able to get ahold of its legs, pull it out from under the shelf, and very quickly stand up and put the hawk in a proper carrying grip.

The way I have been taught to handle medium and large raptors I am transferring is to get my hands gripping their legs just above the feet – when a two-handed grip is needed – sometimes a one-handed grip works, and I hold onto both legs, with fingers and thumb between and wrapped around the legs. This works ok for birds such as Barn Owls, but is not so good for Red Tail Hawks and Great Horned Owls.

After getting a good grip on the legs, we position the bird so that it faces away from us, and use our arms and elbows to get it to tuck in its wings, then we hold our arms close enough to the wings so they can’t flap, and walk over to another enclosure. When moving a bird from inside the main building to an outdoor enclosure, we sometimes put them into pet carrier boxes.

This is what I did with the sea gull, the one that bit my nose a few weeks ago. I did this after putting the hawk in a clean cage. This time, I was much better at handling the gull, which, by the way, another volunteer named “Snappy.” Snappy the Sea Gull – a fitting name. I out on the same gloves that I used for the hawk and owls, and grabbed it good, kept its head and especially its beak far away from my face, put it in a box, walked it outside and let it go in a much larger enclosure. It still can’t fly yet, but its wing has healed enough that it is free to walk around quite a bit. Even though I still bore the bird a bit of a grudge, I felt good putting it in an enclosure that it would give it a lot more room.

The rest of the day was not exciting. I did a lot of cleaning. I also moved many bags of dead ducklings into our freezers in our freezer shed. Dead ducklings are used to feed raptors, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. They are unfortunately killed in a rather inhumane way by the duck farmer before they are brought to us. As I mentioned in previous blogs, there are some sad realities we who work at the center have to live with. One of these is LOTS of ducklings and mice being killed and brought to us so we can feed our carnivores and omnivorous creatures.

Besides moving the bags of ducks, I did scrubbing and cleaning of cages, pet carriers, and other things, and swept, mopped, and did laundry. We use and reuse many many towels of various sizes everyday – especially in ward I. We don’t want the animals sleeping on the cold steel floors of the cages, so we put towels down.

The towels of course get horribly filthy. We have two old washing machines, and 5 long clotheslines to air dry the towels. To save energy, we only use the dryer when it is raining.

The last part of the shift, I was alone, and put on NPR to keep me company while I was working. It is nice there, especially when the weather is so gorgeous. Along the little road that the wildlife center is on, there are many huge palm trees where hundreds of birds of various kinds roost – little songbirds, barn owls and woodpeckers. The woodpeckers are cute and fun to watch as they scramble up and down the trunks of the palm trees, They also make funny noises. I enjoy hearing and watching the birds, and looking around at the trees, earth and sky. It can be very lovely out there.

I finished the shift, locked up, and headed home.

That was a busy enough shift, I think!

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