You Find an Injured Hawk -- What Next?

By Margo D. Beller    @MargoDBeller

I enjoy finding birds but sometimes birds find me. This is hawk-watching season, when the southbound raptors head for their wintering grounds. Many fine hawk watches are to be found in New Jersey or along any ridge line. One of the more famous ones is Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania.

But there are hawk watches far easier to access than others such as the Observation Deck on the top floor of Scherman Hoffman’s education center. From there it is easy to see Osprey, Eagles, various buteos and accipiters as well as falcons and other birds including warblers. Even Pete Dunne has watched hawks from there.

My front lawn is not a hawk watch but it recently became an observation deck of sorts.

About 7:30 on a foggy morning I found this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on my front lawn. We studied each other carefully. I walked a few steps towards it to see if it would rise and leave. Red-tails should not be sitting on the lawn. Perhaps it was having a meal? No, it stayed put and I noticed one of its legs was out in front of it.

Interesting problem. I know better than to get any closer to a wild bird with sharp talons and a beak that can pierce skin.

So I went inside to make breakfast. I looked out every so often to check on the bird. At one point a woman stopped to take a picture and I walked outside to reassure her something would be done for it. I came back inside and called The Raptor Trust. The office is not open until 9 a.m., although I learned from the website I could bring the bird down at any time and put it in a heated carrier outside the office until someone arrives.

The Raptor Trust is a wonderful organization but, like New Jersey Audubon, it is a private group that depends on donations to keep running, so its office hours (9am to 4pm) are limited.

I know from the Trust’s website there is a correct way to handle an injured bird, but the bird shown as an illustration is a much smaller creature than a Red-tailed Hawk, which can weigh several pounds and has a 52-inch wingspan. And, of course, there are those long, sharp talons and that bill.

So I wasn’t going to handle this hawk. Not knowing what else to do I called the local police, who contacted Animal Control and sent out a detective to survey the scene, making sure none of our neighbors (or their dogs) bothered the bird. But we learned our town does not have its own Animal Control department. It contracts with a private company in Bedminister, N.J., and it was going to be 30 minutes or so until someone arrived.

injured.hawk.1How did this hawk get injured? We wondered. The problem seemed to be with its wing. It could flap and stand up but it could not fly. Did it bang into the side of a tree or the house? Was it chasing a meal and got clipped by a speeding car? To me there is nothing sadder than seeing a dead Red-tail at the side of the road. Was it attacked by something larger?

There are so many hazards in a bird’s life, natural and man-made, including being eaten by larger birds. We’ll never know what brought it to my lawn.

Once the detective drove off, it was up to my husband and me to watch the hawk like, well, a hawk. It was a beautiful bird, its distinctive back pattern, its brownish-red tail (which is why I knew it to be a juvenile), its long talons for gripping and killing. Big eyes watching. Good hearing, too - when a murder of American Crows started calling from nearby the Red-tail got extremely agitated. Crows are notorious for mobbing raptors such as Red-tails to drive them away from family groups.

The hawk got up and started flapping its large, brown wings and we thought it was about to take off. But it only could hop off the now-sunny lawn and into the shade of the front walk, up against my deer netting. It flopped down and sat quietly. The Crows soon stopped cawing.

It was in this position when Connie, the Animal Control person, showed up. She approached the hawk, let it study her, let it watch as she folded a fitted sheet in such a way as to drop it on the bird and scoop it up. Her first attempt failed as the Red-tail tried to get farther away. But the second time she got it covered and tucked in, whereupon it calmed down. She carried it to her van and put it in a large cage where it would be comfortable in its sheet but wouldn’t be able to flap around so much it would further injure its wings.

Two hours after I found it, Connie was taking the Red-tail down to the Raptor Trust in Millington.

Nature is not kind. Injured animals die in the wild daily, killed by two- and four-footed (sometimes wheeled) predators. This bird was lucky, and not just because it showed up on my lawn or that I found it or that my husband and I work from home and so could attend to it.

IMG00627-20160920-0930 It was lucky because once it was found, it was protected and then sent to a place where, I hope, it can be rehabilitated and sent back into the wild, perhaps to fly past Scherman Hoffman’s Observation Deck some future Autumn.

What should you do if YOU find a large, injured bird?

First, leave it alone. It might not be injured and it might fly off under its own power.

But if it is injured, getting too close to it or trying to pick it up with your bare hands will only add to its stress and could cause further injury -- especially to you. It is better to leave it to the professionals. If you don’t have an organization such as the Raptor Trust near you, call your local police. Most likely your town will have an arrangement with a company for animal control.

The Raptor Trust website has a section on the handling of all sizes of injured birds and how to get birds to its facility. Read it and familiarize yourself with what to do.