The Dance.

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.

Juvenile:

Adult:

 

 

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