January 14, 2021
What better way to release a bit of stress and refocus than with a heartwarming and triumphant release story about a feisty, first-year Red-tailed Hawk!

Two and a half months ago, we got an alarming call from a good Samaritan who heard a gunshot followed by witnessing a Red-tailed Hawk (RTHA) plummet to the ground. We immediately jumped into action, sending our very own Board Chairman, Jeremy Nichols, to aid in the safe capture and rescue of the downed hawk. During the rescue we gathered all the information necessary to file a report with our local Fish & Wildlife Authorities who began an investigation into the shooting straightaway.
This fierce top predator of the daylight hours proved defenseless against being shot. During the intake exam, we discovered the hawk had been shot through its left wrist with a small-caliber projectile. There was no evidence that it had taken a shot to the body, however there was ample evidence of internal trauma and bleeding, likely due to the fall. The patient also suffered from gut parasites which, if left untreated, could lead to serious conditions like severe weight loss, trouble swallowing and central nervous system issues.

We stabilized the left wing and provided pain medication and supportive care to keep the bird as comfortable as possible. Once our patient was stable enough to travel the following day, we headed to East Petaluma Animal Hospital for examination and x-rays by our primary vet of record, Dr. David Rupiper.

Radiographs supported our initial diagnosis. The projectile had passed directly through the left wrist resulting in multiple, small compression fractures to the bones of the wrist. There was also evidence of internal trauma with a dislocated right coracoid (a specialized bone, similar to the human clavicle, that is critical for flight). Dr. Rupiper closed the holes from the shooting, splinted the left wrist, and returned the bird to BRC for continued care.
A Long Road to Recovery
The bird remained with us on “cage rest” and a myriad of medications for a full four weeks while its fractures and dislocation healed, the internal trauma resolved, and the gut parasites were eradicated. For the first 14 days, staff provided weekly splint changes and full patient examinations. After the initial two weeks, we switched to daily splint changes with gentle physical therapy on the left wrist and right shoulder. Physical therapy is very time intensive, but it’s absolutely necessary to properly heal a joint injury. It maintains the required immobilization needed for continued skeletal repair while at the same time preventing the joints from “freezing” or becoming stiff and arthritic. As the bird continued to progress, we increased physical therapy to two or more times a day, while slowly tapering the bird off the medications.
The photo on the left was taken on day 29 clearly showing the asymmetry of the threat pose. The right shoulder is drooping and the left wrist is not fully extended—all consistent with the injuries he had sustained.
Now compare it to the beautiful and intimidating symmetry on day 50, just days before release!
After four weeks indoors, it was finally time for his first flight! As expected after so much time, the flight was a bit awkward for our patient, but he was strong and the prognosis was very encouraging!
Over the next four weeks, we moved the hawk multiple times. To keep his movements limited, he started in our smallest raptor aviary and eventually graduated to our largest. At the same time, we transitioned from manual physical therapy, to indoor flight physical therapy, and then to full flight conditioning on a creance line. Creancing is a form of tethered flight that allows a bird to fly free to the end of the long line. It builds up a bird's strength and coordination while allowing us to evaluate whether there are any lingering problems from his injuries. Keeping the bird tethered also gives us the ability to recapture him safely.

During the hawk's stay with us, we made sure he had a diet of varied prey, similar to what he would hunt on his own, and provided live prey (mice) once he was healed to re-introduce him to hunting. It was important to ascertain whether he could successfully hunt on his own after having sustained such severe injuries to the muscles and bones that are critical to flight and his ability to maneuver.
After a month and a half of care, this young hawk had regained his stamina and displayed the flight and hunting skills necessary to live on his own.

There is nothing quite like giving a feisty youngster a second chance at life! Early on the morning of December 18th, we successfully returned him to the wild lands of Sonoma County, giving him a second chance to live a long and happy life!

Click on the image below to watch the release video...
Wishing you much joy as we begin 2021!

As we begin a the new year, we hope the story of overcoming insurmountable odds gives you renewed hope for the future.

If you'd like to support the work it takes to help birds like this recover, click the button below to make a tax-deductible donation.
Donate online using the button above, or mail your check to:
The Bird Rescue Center
PO Box 475
Santa Rosa, CA 95402

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The Bird Rescue Center | 707/ 523-2473 | Email