Archive for May, 2008


Posted in Rehab with tags , , , on May 16, 2008 by Dawn
I didn’t do any rehabbing last night at the raptor center. I had forgotten to email Jodeane earlier in the week to arrange for someone to train me, and I know everybody out there is busy anyway so it was no big deal. Actually, I was kind of relieved that nobody was there to train me, as I was feeling tired and just wanted to feed the four resident owls and go home. So, it all worked out serendipitously. I fed Petra, Cypress, Duke, and Wannago, checked on the flight cage birds (and the American Kestrel yelled at me like usual), and filled the bird blind. One deer came wandering up after I put the millet out, but wouldn’t come up to the actual feeders. She lingered in the background, watching me the whole time but obviously not afraid. She stood chewing her cud quietly, never taking her eyes off me but never attemtping to run either. I waved to her as I left and told her she could come eat.
When I got into the office to get my bucket of mice and cleaning supplies, I saw that the rehab paperwork for the juvenile red-tailed hawk was out on the table and that he had been released yesterday. I felt a multitude of emotions at that point, but was ultimately proud. I was the last person to work with him in the flight cage — the last two times he was rehabbed, I was there doing it. Even though I wasn’t there to see him fly back into the wild, I take great pride in knowing that I had a hand in his successful rehabilitation and subsequent release. He was the first bird I worked with and handled, so I was sad to see him go for that reason. But that’s what rehabbing is all about. The successful release of the animal – while it may be hard after spending time with the bird, learning its personality, holding it against you, and being able to look straight into its eyes – is the goal. These animals don’t want to live in cages, and nobody should want them to live in cages. I know that partly because of me, that hawk was able to survive his injury and return to his true home. And it feels good.
Godspeed, little hawk! It was a pleasure meeting you, and may I just say thank you for allowing me to help you heal.
One thing that always surprises me, even after a year and a half, is how the raptor center relaxes me. Last night before I headed out there, I was agitated, tired, grouchy, and feeling rushed. I didn’t know if anybody was going to be out there to train me, so I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone. I was hungry and my leg muscles were tired from riding my bike home. I was feeling like I had a million things to do and too little time to do them in. So, long story short, I was kind of – ahem – owly and irritated.

As soon as I arrived at the MRP and walked down the long path leading from the parking area to the actual bird enclosures, my mood completely changed. I felt very peaceful and calm, and enjoyed the quiet of the woods and the beautiful evening. I was happy to see all the birds, as I always am, and when I saw that I was alone out there I breathed a sigh of relief – I could do the feeding, meander around a bit, and head home. A family of four came by the cages as I was feeding Cypress the barred owl, but they kept to themselves and weren’t a disturbance at all. Turns out they were mushroom hunting, so I hope they had good luck and enjoyed the birds at the same time.

I always like standing in the bird blind area for a while after I put out the food for the deer, and just keep quiet and watch the trees and listen to the wildlife. Once I stand still for a minute or two, all the songbirds return to the feeders and oftentimes squirrels, deer, and even raccoons come up to eat. I try to remain as still as possible so as not to disturb them but if they appear at all agitated, I leave. I told Heather and Ryan the other night (after several glasses of wine) that standing in the bird blind like that and being surrounded by life in all forms is when I feel “God.” Not “God” like some bearded dude on a cloud or some guy hanging on a cross, but “God” as the energy that flows through all living things and composes the universe. It’s like church and therapy and a physics class all rolled into one.

And then, after having released my anxiety and irritability, I went home.


I stopped on my way out of the Macbride Nature Area and snapped some photos of the high lake level. It looked like a swamp. Visit my Flickr page for more.





The Dance.

Posted in Rehab with tags , , , , , , on May 9, 2008 by Dawn
I had my second training in the flight cage last night. Luke, one of the work-study students at the MRP, trained me this time and it was interesting to see how each rehabber does things differently. He had slightly different techniques for catching the birds and getting them to fly, and I’ll talk about that in a bit.
I wish I’d taken the time to write this last night because my memory is fading already, but I was wiped out. Work was tedious and exhausting, and as much as I wanted to work in the flight cage I almost hoped that nobody remembered I was supposed to train last night. As soon as I got out to the lake, however, all that changed and I was glad Luke was there to work with me.

We were in the flight cage for about 90 minutes, and worked with two red-tailed hawks (same as last week). The juvenile red-tailed hawk (RTHA) – which was th eone I handled last week – went first. He was being kind of a butt head and would not get going once we got him out into the main flight area. He is was supposed to do 10 perch-to-perches, but apparently was not intimidated enough by me to fly away. I stood over him, clapping my hands and telling him to “Go! Fly! Come on!,” stepping closer and closer to him all the time. All he did was kind of lean onto his back and try to foot me, so I had to grab him and launch him from my hands. The first time he actually did a perch-to-perch without having to be launched made me so happy – I felt like he understood what I wanted him to do. I jumped up and down a little bit and said “Woo!” It was exciting – probably how parents feel when their kid rides her bike for the first time by herself. He ended up doing about 7 perch-to-perches total, including one perch-to-perch-to-perch, which was impressive. He got tired after that, so we put him back.

The next RTHA was an adult, who was a little more difficult to catch. Adults are quicker than juveniles, so I had Luke attempt to catch her first just so I could see how she reacted in that situation. He cornered her and distracted her by keeping both his hands above her head, and then very quickly moved both hands down and grabbed both her legs. Of course he made it look incredibly easy, but I’m still not used to the huge and cumbersome gloves we have to wear. It’s hard to feel anything in them – they are thick and big on my hands, and for me to move as quickly as Luke did would be like attempting to sprint in a pair of clown shoes.

Once we got the adult RTHA out, we weighed her. Luke was going to have me do it but since she was a little more feisty and I’d never weighed a bird before, I had him do it while I watched. It was interesting – to weigh a bird like that, you must first cradle it in your arms like a baby (while keeping a tight hold on its legs), and then gently lay it on the scale and cover its eyes and face with your hand. This calms the bird down enough to where she will not struggle or fly – it induces almost a dozing state – and you are then able to completely let go of her and get her exact weight. This particular hawk weighed 3 lbs, 6.5 oz, which is a little higher than her normal flying weight.

After weighing her, we did wing stretches. Luke did the left wing, and then passed her off to me and I did the right. She was very good while I held her, and did not struggle or even turn her head to look up at me, as I’ve noticed they always do while you’re holding them. In addition to wing stretches, this RTHA was supposed to do five perch-to-perches so we got her going on that. She knew the drill and was a little easier to get going than the juvenile, but she wasn’t flying well. She had lost some primary feathers from her wing injury and they haven’t completely grown back in yet. I think we got her to fly a couple lengths of the flight cage, but mostly she hobbled/ran along the ground while flapping. She was obviously worn out so I put her back into her cage and called it a day.

If last week’s training session was more akin to an anatomy lesson, last night’s was a psychology lesson. Seeing the stubbornness in the birds’ faces was very interesting. As Luke said, the bird will tell you what he wants to do and what he’s willing to do, if you know how to listen. The first bird was especially stubborn about getting off the ground, and it was as though he was testing me. He would not fly for just me alone, so Luke and I began playing games with the bird – running after it, flailing our arms, talking to the birds, crawling along the ground of the flight cage, etc. All the while, the bird just sat and watched us, backing off a little but not making any attempts to fly. It felt like a battle of wits, and that the bird might be winning. Though he proved to be a worthy adversary, we bested him in the end and he took flight. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if he was actually just tired of watching us act stupid and decided to fly after he was no longer amused by us crawling along a floor lined with wood chips.

Luke said something about the flight cage rehabilitation that really put it all into perspective; he said it’s almost like you’re doing a dance with the birds. Once you learn the steps and motions it will make things a lot easier, and makes it easier to connect with the bird through movement and eye contact. At first I was struggling with getting the birds to fly from the ground but when I picked up on the dance and started doing it myself, I could definitely feel it. I think the hawk could too. You and the bird are locked into a moment in which one of you has to take the lead. As the rehabber, you must remain in control but also be aware of the birds’ boundaries and know what she is willing and able to do. Knowing how to lead is something I certainly need to work on, but the beginnings of the dance are starting to form in my mind. As with any new dance partner, one must learn all the nuances and quirks. With a little practice, however, that partnership grows and familiarity forms…and before you know it, you’re dancing with a bird.

Fun Fact:

You can tell a young RTHA from an adult RTHA by the color of its eyes and its tail feathers.  RTHAs don’t get their red tail feathers until they reach 2 years of age.  As a youngster, their eyes are yellow; however, as they mature their eyes turn a deep brown.





May Day.

Posted in Rehab with tags , , , , on May 2, 2008 by Dawn

 Last night (May 1) was my first flight cage rehabilitation training session at the MRP. I was more nervous and anxious and excited about this than I have been about anything in years.  It was a “good nervous,” though, because it was something I have looked forward to for so long.  After a year and a half of trying to get into wildlife rehabilitation, I was finally here.

I met Jodeane out there after work, and we began by going over some diagrams of a birds’ anatomy. I was immediately reminded that I hadn’t had a science class for YEARS and couldn’t remember the names or locations of simple bones (femur, tibia, etc.). I felt kind of ignorant, but when the majority of your studies focused on reading and analyzing literature, knowing the details of a bird’s skeletal system wasn’t among my academic priorities. This is why I now resent my English degree. But I digress.

After going over the anatomical info, we looked through the rehab log book, and she showed me how they kept track of a bird’s progress. All birds are taken to the clinic at Kirkwood College first, where they are cared for and given veteriniary attention for whatever ails them – broken wings, missing feathers, etc. Once they regain their strength and their wounds heal, they are then taken to the flight cage at the lake and exercised until they are able to be released back into the wild. In some unfortunate cases, however, the birds do not recover from their injuries and will never be able to be released. Some of those birds are used in educational facilities, while some must be euthanized.

Inside the flight cage, Jodeane showed me how to catch a bird, which was actually much less complicated than I thought it would be. You simply corner it if you can, or get it up against a wall, and grab it by the leg with one hand while using your other hand as a shield in case it attacks. Once you have it restrained, you are able to do a full-body assessment to make sure there are no new injuries and to check that there is no trauma to the existing injury. As Jodeane held the bird (a red-tailed hawk, approximately a year-to-a-year-and-a-half old) we went over the anatomical information again, and I felt all her bones as Jodeane named them off. This particular hawk was still kind of weak and needed to build up strength in its injured wing, so after some wing stretches we launched the bird from the middle of the flight cage (which basically consists of tossing it into the air so it has no choice but to fly) and watched it fly to the far end. We did this a few more times, but after three or four perch-to-perches (flying from the perch at one end of the flight cage to the perch at the other), the bird was tired and couldn’t get much over a spastic, flapping run. We put her back and moved on to the next bird, also a red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk:

The second hawk needed to do five perch-to-perches, so we started her off and she did really well – overshot her perch and landed on the water bowls at the end of the flight cage. When she was launched, she tried flying at the outside wall in an attempt to escape but she realized there was no way out. She was pretty well behaved, overall. I think Jodeane said this bird hadn’t been in the flight cage for very long, so she wasn’t familiar with the “routine.” Anyway, when she overshot her perch, Jodeane sent me down to get her to fly back the other way. I guess the bird wasn’t too impressed with my attempts at spooking her, because she tried to make herself big and intimidating (it worked) and worked herself into the corner. This meant that I had to catch her and launch her to the other end of the cage.

I was extremely nervous about catching her, because of a mishap I’d had a couple weeks ago at the MRP spring clean up. Nothing bad happened, but Jodeane let me put Cypress, the barred owl, back in her cage and Cypress kept trying to jump off my fist and would end up hanging upside down from my hand. When I tried to get her back upright, her jesses got tangled and things went downhill from there, but eventually Cypress made it home safe and sound. That was my first experience holding a large wild bird, and I was terrified of accidentally hurting her. I told Jodeane that, and she said that handling the flight cage birds is entirely different than the educational birds, and that she actually prefers it when people are nervous because they are more careful. Whew. So I caught the hawk and launched her and she flew beautifully. We did this a couple more times until the hawk got tired, and then I put her back in her cage. She gave me a dirty look, and I was in love.

One thing that I have to remember is that the birds are not my friends. They don’t want to be my friends, and I shouldn’t want them to be my friends because it’s dangerous for them to become accustomed to the presence of humans. I have to remember that these birds would just as soon eat my face off as look at me. I’m sure they know on some level that I love them and would never harm them, but it still comes down to the fact that they are wild birds of prey. All they want is to be able to fly and hunt and avoid humans, even when those humans are there to help.


As I drove home last night, I experienced a feeling of contentment I can’t fully describe. It was contentment on a very large, very deep, and very broad scale, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I can only describe it as finally coming to the realization of what I am here to do. Like everything finally made sense. Like that from here on out, my path is clear.

The universe agreed, and bestowed upon me green lights the whole way.