I’m back! I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog over the last few weeks necessitated in part by the fact that I have been too busy with patients to sit down and write. Now I have so much to catch up on that I had to break my story into three parts to make it more manageable to read. So hold on and prepare yourself, because over the next three days I will take you on the roller coaster ride of events that has been my last few weeks. We begin where I left you last time, on Wednesday, December 28, 2011…
Part I: Hawk Trapping on Aisle Ten
I received a call from my friend and fellow rehabber, Judy Holzman of All Creatures Great and Small Wildlife Center in Columbia, MD. Judy had just spoken to Pat, who manages a Sam’s Club in Baltimore. She and her co-workers had discovered a hawk flying about high in the rafters of the superstore. Pat knew the bird was in trouble, as there was no hawk food in the store and no easy way out for the bird.
Judy and I both knew that it was most likely a Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s hawks are bird hunters, and prone to getting trapped in warehouses and other large buildings. They fly in chasing their prey, such as house sparrows and starlings, which sometimes seek food and shelter in such places. You have probably seen these smaller birds flying around in your local Home Depot or other superstore. The hawk flies in chasing it’s prey, but once inside it gets spooked and flies high into the rafters seeking safety. Unfortunately most of these buildings have skylights, but no openings in the roof. The exits are close to the ground, and the hawk won’t fly down to where it would find its escape, not without something to lure it down.
In this matter, rehabbers often enlist the help of falconers or raptor banders, who have the equipment needed to lure and capture hawks. I called Ken Smith, a raptor bander who has helped me before with such cases. Ken has a number of hawk traps, including a Bal Chatri (a.k.a. BC). This trap is basically a small welded-wire cage with a weighted base and loops of monofilament fishing line tied all over the outside. A live pigeon, starling, sparrow, or mouse is placed inside the cage, which protects it from the hawk. The trap is placed below the hungry hawk and, if possible, on a surface above the floor such as a high shelf (so the hawk will feel safe approaching it), or on the floor near an open exit (so it has the option to keep flying through the exit). When the hawk lands on the trap, its feet become caught in the monofilament loops and it can’t fly away.
Judy, Ken and I arrived at Sam’s Club at 8 pm, a half-hour before closing, and met Janice, the night manager, who kindly walked us through the aisles to where the hawk was perching, over the store bakery. Fortunately, this was also near the large freezers, which had a good solid roof, and a ladder that reached the top. This made an ideal set-up. We could anchor the trap on the freezer roof, which was close enough to the hawk that it would spot it (but not spook when we placed it there), and high enough above the workers who were restocking shelves, that the hawk would feel safe in approaching it. The plan was implemented! We set the trap on top of the freezer where we could observe it from the ground, and then climbed down and watched at a distance with our binoculars.
We had prepared for a long evening of waiting, but it took only about 20 minutes before the hawk landed on the trap. , Once we were sure his feet were entangled Ken and I rushed to the ladder and climbed to the hawk. Ken got a hold on his feet and we untangled him from the trap. When we reached the ground with the hawk, Pat, the store manager was there with her camera, and a number of employees were snapping pictures with their cell phones. They were excited to see “Cooper” the hawk, whom they had proudly named after identifying his species. A quick examination revealed that Cooper, a juvenile male, was dehydrated and in need a couple of days of fluids and food before being turned loose. So we tucked him in a box and I took him home to Owl Moon Raptor Center.
As expected, Cooper recovered quickly, and he was ready for release on Sunday; New Years Day. Though I normally release birds back in their home territory, I was reluctant to send Cooper back to his urban home, with all of its traffic hazards and the very real chance of him winding up in another superstore or warehouse. A juvenile hawk has not mated or established a nesting territory in its first winter, so it is not a major disruption to move them. We decided to release Cooper in rural Ellicott City, where Shayne, a friend of Ken’s, has several acres of prime Cooper’s hawk habitat: a stream, meadows, and tall trees. I met Ken there, and after Ken banded Cooper, Shayne’s mother was given the honor of releasing him. He flew straight through a bamboo thicket and kept on going!