I live near a small zoo. All of the animals, birds and reptiles who live there are native species who were once injured, have gone through rehabilitation, and ended up with a permanent disability which prevented their return to the wild. Local people who unexpectedly end up with injured wildlife in their cars tend to beeline for the zoo; especially if they have no cell phone.

Last summer a man arrived there with an injured Red-tailed Hawk in his car. As it turned out, the man was driving down a local road and saw the hawk standing on the center line. He stopped his truck, rolled down the window and asked the bird if it needed assistance, but it did not respond. He pulled to the side, climbed out and approached it, expecting it to fly away. It stayed still. So, he picked it up. Evidently, it was not amused.

The man arrived at the zoo with bloody puncture wounds up and down both arms. Now, I have been “footed,” as they say, by a large hawk who managed to breach my leather falconry glove, and – even through the glove – I can attest that I have experienced few things as painful. Puncture wounds require a current tetanus shot, and I was overdue. “What happened?” the hospital doctor had queried, because, naturally, it was a Sunday. “A hawk got me,” I replied. “Why would you go near a hawk?” he asked, deadpan.


None of the wildlife staff were at the gate when the man arrived with the hawk, so he gave it to a groundskeeper, who pushed it into a box with a stick. “That bird really got me good,” said the man to the groundskeeper. “But I couldn’t leave him there in the middle of the road.”

The groundskeeper didn’t know that wildlife rehabilitators must always obtain the finder’s name, address and telephone number. This is both for our State and Federal paperwork, and just in case we need to contact the finder. I arrived to pick the hawk up, listened to the story, and realized I had no way of getting in touch with this man. And I wanted to so badly.

The hawk had been hit by a car and had head trauma as well as scrapes and bruises, but recovered completely and was eventually released. I wanted his rescuer to see him go. I wanted to say, thank you so much for putting yourself in harm’s way, for saving the life of this beautiful bird. I wanted to say, you are a testament to the best of humanity, and I am in awe of your compassion.

I also wanted to say, listen, Rambo, you better go get yourself a tetanus shot.

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.