May Day.

 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.

One Response to “May Day.”

  1. Heatherita Says:

    I am such a cheeseball but I am so proud of you!! I can’t wait to hear more adventures in rehabbing!

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