Return to the Wild Blog
Sometimes things turn out for the best despite everything. In the world of wildlife rehab, you just have to prepare for the worst: some animals cannot be saved and either die of their own accord, or must be humanely euthanized. That is indeed a sad outcome, but one which is nevertheless always a possibility. But once in a blue moon the animal not only recovers, but thrives beyond all probability.
RTTW got a call in March 2010 about a red-shouldered hawk that had been shot. Her wing and leg were badly injured, and it was abundantly clear she would need surgery and an extensive recovery. Her leg was broken, and buckshot was scattered throughout her injuries. So we named her Buckshot and got started.
The first surprise came not at the vet, but from law enforcement and the DNR. The man who shot the hawk claimed that she was eating his chickens, which is highly unlikely. The man admitted to shooting the hawk, and was fined. His garnished wages helped defray the cost of treating Buckshot. Killing or injuring a raptor is illegal, but only a tiny percentage of all raptor shootings are ever prosecuted. Buckshot was a lucky girl in that regard!
At the vet, x-rays showed that her leg would need to be pinned. Here are some photos of the surgery.
Our wonderful vet Dr Clarke and her amazing team got Buckshot back together and then it was our job to heal her up. So we took her home and let nature do its thing
Several weeks later the brace and pins came out and Buckshot had a leg all in one piece again (well, bird legs come in more than one piece just like mammal legs, but you know what I mean). But she wasn’t ready to go yet; we had to wait to make sure her leg was good and strong, that she was able to hunt, and that no infection had set in. But a surprise awaited us later in the spring…
Meanwhile, somewhere in Indiana, several birds of prey had been illegally taken from the nest and were being kept as pets. The first, a barred owl (whom we named Moonshine), was a few months old and severely imprinted on humans. She had been made to sit on people’s shoulders, like a parrot in a pirate movie. She thinks she’s a person, so when it comes time to mate she’s going to seek out a human. Not a pretty sight when a 6lb raptor with 200lbs psi in the talons tries to get sweet on you! Sadly this means Moonshine can never be released, but she will make a fantastic education ambassador to the public. The other raptor being kept as a pet was a little red-shouldered hawk, so young he still had down in places. Hawks don’t imprint as easily as owls do, so no danger there. All he needed was to learn how to be a grown-up hawk. We needed a foster-mom!
Buckshot took to fostering like a…. well, duck to water. “Baby Buckshot” as he was known idolized her and tried to do everything Buckshot had to offer: how to tear up food, the fine points of sunning, preening, and bathing. By the time October rolled around there was one more thing to do before they could be returned to the wild: MOUSE COLLEGE!
To find out if a patient can hunt effectively we get a kiddie swimming pool with rigid sides. Then we fill it up with brush and leaves. Then we put live mice in it. We make sure they can’t get out, then come back in a day to see what happened. No mice = hunting successful! The red-shouldered hawks passed their exam with flying (!) colors.
So on a cloudless fall day, three of us went to Brown County State Park to let these beauties go. We picked a likely vista and got ready.
A small crowd gathered for an impromptu presentation:
And then finally Buckshot was returned to the wild, followed a few seconds later by Baby Buckshot:
This rehab and release was immensely satisfying, and reminds us all of why we do this thing that is often difficult and heartbreaking but rewarding and joyous also.
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Here you’ll see a few of our patients. We have a lot of youngsters in the spring and summer, perhaps because they’ve fallen from a nest in a storm, or the result of a logging operation or building demolition. At all times in the year we take in adults that have been struck by cars, either while on the wing or because the bird was scavenging road-kill. Our vet is an expert in avian medicene, and without her we couldn’t do what we do!
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RTTW’s secretary Dom launches a Red-tailed hawk on a test flight to see if it’s time to be released. The creance (leash) keeps the bird from flying away. Once we’re sure everything’s ok, the bird is returned to the wild!
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These two nestlings are Eastern Screech Owls. The tree they were nesting in was cut down. Their 3 siblings sadly died from the accident, but these two are doing well and will be released in the fall.
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