Yet another Red-tailed Hawk!

Two friends were driving down a winding country road in the pouring rain, listening to the radio announcer warn that a tornado could be heading our way. We’re in upstate New York, so this is unlikely, but still disturbing. They saw movement on the grassy area to the side, slowed, and found a young hawk, soaking wet, unable to get off the ground.

“What should we do?” asked Nance, into the phone. “There’s a tornado coming!”

Suddenly I heard the farm hand’s voice shout, “It’s a twister, it’s a twister!” while Dorothy’s family rushed into the basement. And there was this poor little hawk, in the path of an oncoming tornado, but with no Toto to keep him company.

“Kurt says he can catch him!” said Nance. All three arrived ten minutes later.

It was lucky for the hawk, who was so emaciated he probably wouldn’t have lasted the night. He was a small male, six or seven months old, and obviously not a skilled hunter. Solid food would have killed him, as he’d have used up the last of his fading energy trying to digest it. Instead I put a tube down his throat and syringed first tiny, then increasing amounts of liquid protein into his crop. Every two hours.

Why go through all the effort, if you’re just going to kick him out when he recovers? Won’t he go through the same thing all over again?

No, because after he gains weight and feels better, he’ll go to Mouse School, where he’ll get to practice catching live prey until he’s an expert at doing it by himself. THEN we’ll kick him out.

Meanwhile, he slowly graduated from liquids to defrosted mice: first just organ meat, then skinned and deboned, then just skinned, then the whole mouse.

“Oh, wow!” I exclaimed, while picking through my freezer for choice meals. “I forgot I had a squirrel in here!”

“Aaarrrghhh,” came my daughter’s usual response, which is a combination of horror, disgust, and exasperation.

Young redtails, especially ones saved from the brink of starvation, are so cooperative when they’re still weak. Here he is, a week ago, agreeing to his weight check with no problem. He has just moved to Lisa Acton’s house, where he will continue to gain weight and eventually go through Mouse School, at which point he wouldn’t be caught dead (so to speak) standing on a scale in somebody’s bathroom.

And with luck and a second chance, he’ll live a long and healthy life out there where he belongs.

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.