I received a call from the Lindsay Wildlife Museum up in Walnut Creek near Sacramento and they had something I wanted. Remember Brush, our new juvenile red fox? He was orphaned in that area and first rescued by the museum before finding his permanent home here at Wildworks.
Now there was another orphan and I was so excited. I’d been waiting for an opportunity like this since our wonderful and docile ambassador hawk, Tara, had passed away at age 37! You probably remember her since she was at Wildworks from almost the beginning and she traveled to every program for over 15 years. So yes, you guessed it. They had an orphaned hawk and he was imprinted.
His story is not an uncommon one. In the spring months the hawk chicks are in the nest being fed by the parents and often these nests are in tall trees near homes. Sadly, 70% of all birds of prey don’t even survive their first year and many fall from the nest to their fate. They may be consumed by a predator, succumb to the elements, or they just might get lucky when a caring person finds them first.
Most people don’t know how to properly care for wildlife and although they mean well, their behavior can make a lasting impression. We’ve all seen signs that say “Please don’t feed the wildlife” and this is good advice to take.
When the barely feathered young red tail was found in the yard of a caring person and transported to the Lindsay Museum for treatment he was dehydrated and cold and needed some attention from the veterinary staff. Revived and thriving in no time, the goal was to put him back in a makeshift nest near the tree housing his original one and hope the parents took notice. That was the easy part but sometimes for us well-meaning humans it’s not so easy to leave nature alone. The “caring” person who rescued the chick couldn’t resist feeding meat snacks to the impressionable baby and, although numerous attempts were made to re-wild him, it was too late-- he was imprinted.
All birds and mammals go through the imprinting stage of their lives early on. This exact and very brief period of time varies with each species but once it passes by there’s no turning back. The deal was sealed when our little hawk was fed by people during the imprinting period. If he were released into the wild he would surely get into trouble by seeing people as a food source and possibly even flying at humans in hopes of a handout.
Consequently, there were only two choices; a permanent home in an educational facility or worst case scenario, euthanasia.
We were thrilled to get the call.
And it just gets better. A Lindsay Museum volunteer who was a experienced falconer began teaching the fledgling to sit on the glove in preparation for transfer and because it took me a couple of weeks to make the trip up to Walnut creek to retrieve our new bird, when I arrived all the work was done for me! I was introduced to a beautiful immature red-tail sitting calmly on the glove. WOW!
Perching shotgun in his crate he chirped at me all the way home saying “Feed me, Feed me” in hawk so I tossed the dead mice his way and he grabbed them with his talons and chowed down.
He was nameless, so I wrote down a long list of possibilities on the drive but nothing seemed to stick. It was when I took him to his first gig as a model for students at Gnoman’s School of Visual Arts in Hollywood that a student said “He looks like a Dragon!” and there it was.
For some Native peoples The Hawk is depicted as the Guardian and Protector of the Earth Mother and all her children and is believed to be in a continuous fight, protecting people from the evil spirits of the air.