Thursday, February 1, 2007

Red Tail Hawk Update

Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 14, 2005

Brenda with the Ojai Raptor Center reports, after an examination by a veterinarian, the hawk we rescued was shot through the wing with either a small caliber bullet or bb-gun, a week or more before he crash landed on Corralitas. The wing was broken and infected, plus the hawk was severely dehydrated and thin.

After several days of treating the infection, they anesthetized the hawk to further assess the broken wing. Since it had been so long since the bird was shot, the bone was dried out and inoperable. Since the wild hawk was in such poor condition, and would not be releasable with an amputated wing, the veterinarian decided to euthanize the bird. If we had been able to rescue the bird a week earlier, it may have made a difference.

Our 2005 hawk rescue was much more successful. A not-fully-fledged hawk fell 80’ to the street below from his nest atop a eucalyptus tree, next to the log cabins. His leg was broken. I called the Wildlife Officer at North Central Animal Shelter, who referred me to Brenda with Ojai Raptor Center. Neighbors blocked off the street & sidewalk with “caution” tape and barricades, while we awaited Animal Control. The officer had to climb 15-20’ up the steep slope to reach the hawk who was attempting to get back to his tree. Throughout this drama, the hawk’s parents kept a threatening eye on us, while screeching the whole time. They were not pleased, but they would not have been able to get the baby back into the nest. The baby would likely have fallen prey to a coyote if we left it on the ground.

Photo: Edwardson, 2005. Angry red tail parent.

The hawk was transferred to the Ojai Raptor Center where they repaired his broken leg. During fledging season, the Raptor Center is overwhelmed with rescues. They even have an unreleasable surrogate mother hawk who helps feed the babies. Our hawk was later released in an area where there are a lot of red tails he could learn from.

The sibling of the one we rescued used to hang out on the decks of the log cabins. He frequented my neighbor who took some great photos of him. I once saw one of the hawk’s parents bring him a rat. The parent sat in the tree with the rat screeching until he flew the 20 feet from my deck to the tree. He seemed to prefer my deck to tree for a dining perch. His parent would have nothing of it, insisting he use the tree.

Why should we care about the hawks?

They are a vital link in the hillside food web. They help keep rats and gophers under control. So don’t use rat poison. The poison doesn’t immediately kill the rat, so the rat acts erratically once the poison begins to take effect. The rat falls easy prey to predators, like hawks and pet cats, which are then poisoned and die from eating the rat.

Red Tail Hawks and other raptors like to hunt on the big open spaces like the Red Car Property and the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract. Many mornings you can see hawks sitting atop the telephone poles, then swooping down to catch some vermin. The steep topography of the Red Car and Semi-Tropic neighborhoods combined with the heat island of the adjacent freeways create ideal updrafts on which the hawks like to soar. It’s like Wild Kingdom in your own backyard, 5 minutes from Downtown Los Angeles.

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