The other night I went out to rescue a great big Red-tailed Hawk, who turned out to be a tiny little Sharp-shinned Hawk. The woman did call me, for which I am grateful, although she did it after she spotted the little bird standing on the floor of her garage and swept it out the door with a broom. I often wish I could do this with people who irritate me, but there’s the size issue. Anyway, when the hawk just stood there on the ground instead of flying away, she tracked down my number.

The sharpie was a skinny juvenile who needed a few square meals. He was too thin and tired to fight, so I reached into his crate a dozen times over the next two days, picked him up, fed him, and put him back in his crate. Sharpies are so little, compared to Red-tails and Great Horned Owls, that I tend to get careless and not wear gloves. I knew this one was feeling better when I reached into the crate and instead of staying put, he rushed toward me and grabbed my hand with all eight of his little needle talons.

Accipiters are demon birds who don’t care that you’re sixty times their size, they’re going to try to kill you anyway. Once they’re on the road to recovery, they glare at you as if you’re a Hatfield and they’re a McCoy; they act as if you’re the embodiment of everything that has ever gone wrong in their lives, which they can now set straight if they cause you pain. You’d think this would make wildlife rehabilitators resentful, but instead it brings us great joy.

“Guess who’s feeling better?” I asked my teenaged daughter, grinning and holding up my hand, which was covered with tiny puncture wounds. “He hooked me big time!”

“Why do you do this?” she replied. “Seriously, have you ever really asked yourself that?”

I talked to my rehabber friend Veronica, who runs Native Songbird Care & Conservation in Sebastopol, CA, and who gave me her version. “I always know when adult grosbeaks are feeling better,” she said. “They chomp down on that tender little fleshy part between your thumb and first finger, and won’t let go. I always think to myself, “Oh, wonderful, he’s feeling better!’ through the pain, as I’m trying to pry him off.”

I emailed my rehabber friend Jules, who lives in New York, and she agreed. “Oh, yeah,” she wrote back. “Once I was totally nailed by a cormorant – I had nerve damage in my hand for months. It. Was. Awesome.”

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.