I’m back. Hope you had as nice a Thanksgiving break as I did!
Last week my wife and I were up in Chico, California, for a Thanksgiving break (and Thanksgiving!) with my brother Terry and his wife, Meg. On Friday (Nov. 23), while we were sitting around recovering from eating waaay too much turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and salad and pie, we all suddenly heard a loud THUMP! on one of the windows out to the back deck.
When you’ve been working in the field of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation as long as I have, that THUMP has instant meaning. A bird had plowed into a window.
It was a little male sharp-shinned hawk. It had been zigging and zagging to nail one of the many birds that were eating out of Meg’s feeders and had zagged when he should have zigged head-first into the glass. The sharpie was lying limply on the wood deck.
High on the window was a smudge mark and a single feather stuck on the glass and waving gently in the breeze.
I quickly slid open the glass door and Meg (who maintains a bunch of bluebird houses and is really into birds) and I slipped out. I gently scooped my right hand around the warm bird, taking care to grasp the skinny legs with my left hand so those powerful feet and half-inch long talons couldn’t grab me. The hawk’s head hung down limply, it’s eyes fluttering rapidly. I could feet the equally rapid flutter of its heart pumping against my index finger.
“Meg, can you please get me a brown grocery sack and put a soft wash rag in the bottom?” I said softly.
She was back with the stuff in a moment. “Why the sack?” she answered.
“I want to put him inside on the soft rag and close the top and leave him in a quiet spot so we can see if he’s going to recover. If he suddenly wakes up and starts to thrash around, he won’t hurt himself against the paper bag’s sides.” What I didn’t say was “if his neck isn’t broken.”
I sat the bag on the deck, pinched the top shut and we went back inside. If birds can’t see anything they stay calm. Paper bags work great. It’s the same principal falconers use when they put a hood over a falcon’s head. The bird immediately quiets down when it can’t see anything. I’ve rescued everything from tiny hummingbirds to big red-tailed hawks and put them in small and large paper sacks to lie quietly and get their act together after being stunned.
Five minutes later I went out and checked the hawk. It was standing up on the bottom of the bag and looking around. “Hey, guys,” I called. “Come watch.”
I took the sharpie out of the bag and gently checked each of his wings to make sure they weren’t broken. Head, wings, body, legs, they all looked great. Peering into his eyes I noted both pupils were equal in size. Fortunately, it looked like the bird had only been stunned. I’ve been doing this quite a few years and know what to look for. If you encounter a stunned bird like this on your deck, I recommend you give the Lindsay Wildlife Museum a call at 925-935-1978, ask to speak to the wildlife hospital, explain the situation and seek their advice. (If you live outside the San Francisco Bay Area, call your local wildlife rescue center.)
Then I sat the sharp-shinned hawk on the deck and stepped back. He stomped his feet a couple of times and looked around, finally tipping his head back and looking up at me.
“Ready to go?” I smiled down at the bird.
Definitely ready to go. He spread his wings and immediately zoomed off the deck and landed on the branch of an oak tree about 50 feet away. He immediately started preening the breast feathers I’d ruffled when I placed him in the bag.
“Looks good to me,” I said. “Wings work fine, flying is accurate, he’s standing tall and he was able to focus on that branch and land on it perfectly.”
Everyone had huge smiles on their faces, especially Meg.
“Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!” I grinned. Man, that felt good!