Friday, October 29, 2010

Phoenix the Hawk

Our motto at NY Wildlife Rescue Center has always been "do it first class not half assed" and I try to always do what is right. Receiving constructive criticism and admitting my mistakes has never been one of my strong points. Lets just say "awhile ago" one of my educational Redtail Hawks escaped. The falconer that previously owned her had named her Phoenix, I do not name wild animals (if I can help it). The Mew (falconer term for places where raptors are kept) were low on stonedust. Keeping the fill in the mew is a constant process. Carver Stone in Middleburgh is kind enough to donate a couple of thousand dollars worth of crushed stone dust every year to keep our mew looking like a textbook photo. The dust had settled (so to speak) and I had one of my best educational redtails squeeze out from under the mew and escape. Being permanently disabled, I knew that she wouldn't get far and I spent dozens of hours with friends searching for her. I had just about given up hope finding her when one of our friends was mowing the lawn at the Elementary School and spotted her hanging out at the Nature Trail behind the school. Phoenix was lovin' life at the nature preserve. When I went to capture her, she was "tree hopping". Raptors with injured wings will often hop from one tree to the next to move since walking on the ground is hazardous to their lives due to mammal predators. For two days I attempted to catch her and her crop was bulging with the mice and chipmunks she had been fortunate enough to eat. She wasnt really thinking about what was in store for her this winter. She was not very cooperative, would not fist (or land on my glove) and saw no point in ending her fieldtrip. I talked to a good friend that is a falconer and he gave me some pointers. With my new found knowledge, a pigeon that had come in on a rescue (missing a wing) and some netting, I was confident as I went to catch Phoenix. After two days of trying to catch her, she had gotten sick of that game and had "vanished" off of my radar. I was starting to get pessimistic again but knew deep inside that I would find her again and would not stop until I had her back in the safety of her mew. She is my responsibility and I have to protect her.
Last night, I was running a couple of our high school volunteers home after doing chores. As I was coming out of the Middlefort Road by the Reformed Church, I noticed a woman that I know parked along the road on her cell phone. I slowed down to see if she was having car problems and she informed me that she was trying to call me. She said that she saw this bird that had leather straps (jesses) on her feet and I was out of the truck in a flash. Gloves on, net in hand I walked up to Phoenix who was looking at me with a "do you have food?" expression. I made one feeble attempt to net her, she took off to another tree. I knew that my chances of catching her this way were slim and none (played this game already). While Amanda watched her, I ran home and got the poor one winged pigeon and quickly returned. When I returned, Amanda had moved about 200 feet down River Street and informed me that she had lost visual contact with Phoenix.... My heart sank, I had missed my chance. Then I saw her, sitting 6 foot off of the stone wall that runs along River Street. She could have never made it flying across the river, cars were not slowing down at all. I knew that I would have to be careful. If I spooked her, she could drown or easily be killed by traffic. I carefully and calmly walked up to her and stood on the wall. She was very interested in the commotion that the pigeon was making in my hand. I got within 2 foot of grabbing her jesses and she flew about 30 foot up into another tree on the river bank. My heart was pounding, emotions were high as I went back across the highway. I don't have a hawk trap but I have read a lot of books. I also grew up watching Mcguiver (sp?)so I decided to make a trap. I took a large hoop net (used for fishing), I put little anklets on the pigeon's legs and tethered him to the net. Then I took a string and tied it to the rim of the net and took the spool of string far enough out that I could hide behind a big tree on the lawn of the church. Within 30 seconds, Phoenix drifted down out of the safety of her tree to wack the pigeon (who wasnt thrilled about this game). I yanked the string flipping the net up....Phoenix had gotten her feet caught in the net and I kept pulling the net across the ground while I was running towards it and before she knew what was happening.....I had ahold of her jesses, game over. My daughter Hannah was screaming "save the pigeon" which I did as soon as I had ahold of Phoenix. No pigeons were harmed in the capture of this hawk :)....
It feels like a weight has been lifted off of my back. I was floating with joy last night when I returned to our farm with Phoenix and "Trapper" (the pigeon) in hand.... yes, I know I don't name wildlife. Phoenix is hanging out with old friends, eating herself silly and probably telling all the other hawks how scary life "on the run" in Middleburgh is.... Once caught I do think that she was happy to see me and was happy her ordeal is over. I know that I am happy to have her "home". Happy Hween, be young, have fun.... Dont forget to clean out your freezers and donate the treats to NYWRC. Till next time, WES

PS, check out our gift shop at the link, top right of this page. There are Phoenix the Red-Tail items in the shop.

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