Archive for June, 2009


Posted in Uncategorized on June 23, 2009 by Dawn

I went easy on the birds yesterday during our rehab session.  Why?  Because it was about 95 degrees here in Iowa.  Doesn’t that happen later in the summer, like late July or August?  Summer certainly isn’t wasting any time this year.  The day after the solstice and it’s already so hot that even going outside to fill the bird feeder is like spending a moment in hell, if hell was incredibly sunny.

Anyway.  It was so hot yesterday that all I wanted a smooth, easy rehab session that would begin with the birds jumping willingly into my arms, then doing their respective 5 perch-to-perch (P-Ps) flights, and once again flying straight to me so I could put them back in their cages.   If you bet $1 million that none of that happened, then congratulations – you won.  You will receive your check 10 days from…never.

The Cooper’s hawk was immediately stubborn about being caught.  He flew up into the higher parts of his cage – the parts I can’t reach – and stayed there.  I sighed very loudly at him to let him know just how exasperated I was, as the sweat began to cascade down my cleavage.  I left his cage in hopes that my not being there would prompt him to fly to a more reachable spot, but he stayed put.  After what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like 2.5 minutes, he decided to come down.  I snatched him off his perch and he put up more of a fight than usual.  Thankfully he’s a little guy, so keeping a handle on him wasn’t hard.  We started out on several successful P-P flights, but once he missed his perch he had difficulties getting enough elevation to land there again.  He ran-flapped down the length of the flight cage a few times, with me following behind him going, “Pfff…sigh…” and such.  Finally he decided to shape up and he resumed his P-Ps.  

He was panting heavier than I’ve ever seen him pant before – his tongue was hanging about an inch out of his mouth.  Here he is, panting his little bird-heart out:

Gosh its hot!  Why dont you leave me alone, lady?

"Gosh it's hot! Why don't you leave me alone, lady?"

I made sure to give him sufficient rest time between flights since it was offensively hot and he seemed to not respond well to the heat.  I know I don’t.  The moment the temperature rises above about 87 degrees, I am rather unpleasant to be around.  The moment the COHA completed his 5 P-P flights, I scooped him back up and put him back in his cage so  I could move on to the red-tailed hawk with the air-sac injury.  Normally we would want to keep the bird flying to see how long he can go before getting tired, but it was so hot that I know neither he nor I were interested in doing more than necessary.

The red-tailed hawk (RTHA) is one wild bird.  Of course all the birds I rehabilitate are wild, but this RTHA doesn’t let you forget it for a moment.  She won’t let me get close enough to get a decent photo, but that’s a good thing – that’s what we want.  The moment I come near her, she flies off.  But like I said, this is what wildlife rehabilitation is about.  She, too, was very stubborn about being caught (but she always is).  When I was finally able to reach up and grab her leg as she sat on her perch, she immediately used her other foot to grab my right wrist and did not let go.  Though it was 95 degrees, I added a sweatshirt layer over my tank top before catching her because her feet tend to go every which way and I can’t really see where they’re going because I’m trying to keep from getting flapped in the face by her almost 5 foot wingspan.  Even with the added protection of the sweatshirt and the leather falconer gloves that come almost halfway to my elbows, her grip was impressive and painful.  I’m actually surprised she didn’t break the skin through two layers.  When I moved my right arm/wrist/hand in the slightest, she tightened her grip and I winced each time…but I did not let go.  I pity any small critter who finds himself there.  It’s not a comfortable place to be.

She performed beautifully, as usual.  Since it was so hot, I kept a close eye on her breathing and gave her long rest periods between flights.  Just as I did with the COHA, I did not press for more than 5 P-P flights due to the weather.  I could tell she was tired at the end because she let me approach her and I was able to easily catch her off the perch.  I’d like to think she was thankful for a short session, but I know she was just mad at me for having the audacity to come near her in the first place.  

She tilted her head back and gave me the stink eye as I carried her back to her cage.  I wish I could explain to the birds what I’m doing and why.  Actually, I do – so I guess I wish they could understand me.  Maybe on the day they’re released, they understand.  If I ever meet a bird I’ve released, I’ll ask him and let you all know.

Welcome to the world, Layla!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2009 by Dawn

This is my first non-rehab related post on this blog, but it’s too exciting not to include.  My niece, Layla Morgan Breitbach, was born on June 11, 2009.  She is 100% awesome.  Let’s all welcome her to the world, shall we?  More photos at my Flickr page.   For more information on my photographic services, visit the Dewey Street Photo Company website!

Red-tailed hawk video.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2009 by Dawn

i think i love you, originally uploaded by kitty cat bandit.

The new RTHA in the flight cage performs a perch-to-perch-to-perch flight and catches me a little bit by surprise.


Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2009 by Dawn

When I was feeding the owls on Thursday of last week, someone from the raptor clinic brought two red-tailed hawks (RTHA) – one adult and one juvenile – to the flight cage.  After I finished with the owls, I poked my head in then to check on them but I didn’t spend any time with them.  I was impressed by the adult RTHA simply because she was a large and strong bird but both birds were too agitated by their new surroundings for me to really get a good impression.  

Today, though…today I got an impression.

The adult RTHA is one of the most impressive birds I’ve seen up close and had the pleasure (and honor) to work with.  She is magnificent.  She is in the flight cage due to an air sac injury.  The air sacs are separate from the lungs but are still an important part of the avian respiratory system.  Since she didn’t have a wing injury or anything that really inhibited her flying ability, what I had to keep an eye on was her breathing.  If her breathing became too labored, I had to stop flying her.  Thankfully, it never did, though I gave her lots of rest time between flights to make sure she wasn’t being overworked.

This is a strong, sturdy bird.  When I caught her, it was obvious that she wasn’t into being held.  I caught her in the usual manner (by the legs) after chasing her around her cage for a little while, and when I had her legs secured I tucked her wings and lifted her around so her back and wings were against my chest.  I could feel her trying to push with her wings as I brought her to an upright position (*when we catch the birds, we hold them upside down by their legs so we are able to tuck their wings).  The strength involved in her doing so was unbelievable.  I was impressed from the get-go.  Out in the flight hallway, I launched her into the air and she did a perch-to-perch-to-perch (P-P).  I don’t think I’ve had any birds do that before.  With some birds, getting one P-P flight is a trial.  It was clear that this hawk is all about the flying.  We continued with the P-P flights until she had exceeded her requisite five flights, and then I caught her again and put her back into her cage as to not overexert her. 

There was a moment when I realized the true power of not only this bird, but every bird like her that exists now or has ever existed.  When I brought her into the flight hallway from her cage, I dropped one of my gloves after latching the lock on her door.  Rather than stooping down to get it while holding the bird, I decided to just launch her sans glove.  Had my hand been in biting distance from her mouth, that would have been a stupid move on my part.  But, since that hand would have to hold her wings on her back as I got her into launch position, I decided to just put my bare skin to her feathers and hope for the best.  When I touched her wings, I was sold.  Feeling the amount of warmth and strength she had in just two wings took me to a place that few will probably ever have the privilege of going – it was a place of reverence for this bird and every other wild being on this planet.  It was a realization that I was holding in my hands the embodiment of everything wild and free.  I launched her into the air and watched her fly.

I made a video of one of her P-P-P flights.  I didn’t know she was going to fly right back after hitting the north perch, and it caught me slightly by surprise.  You can view the video on Flickr, but I will post it in another entry in just a minute.

The Cooper’s Hawk is still doing well.  He is at about the same level as he was last week as far as improvement goes, but like I said, I have high hopes for that little guy.  I think he’s going to make it after all.  The other RTHA, a juvenile, is nursing a dislocated toe and is under observation only for now.  He has some sutures in his foot, and until those are removed I will not be able to fly him.  I think the Cooper’s Hawk and the new and wonderful RTHA will keep me plenty busy for the foreseeable future.  

Already I can’t wait to work with the RTHA again.  It’s like making a cool new friend that you can’t wait to hang out with.  But in this case, instead of a friend, it’s a bird who would sooner see you run over by a truck than give you the time of day.  And that’s exactly what we want.


* – “when we catch the birds, we hold them upside down by their legs so we are able to tuck their wings”


Handling a red-tailed hawk: upside down by the legs, so tucking the wings is possible.

Handling a red-tailed hawk: upside down by the legs, so tucking the wings is possible.

a different perch

Posted in Uncategorized on June 1, 2009 by Dawn

a different perch, originally uploaded by kitty cat bandit.

…just because I like this photo. The caption I wrote on Flickr reads:

“the cooper’s hawk is perched on my hand in this photo, like he’s standing on my fingertips. as i was trying to get him to fly off his normal perch, he footed my glove and held on, so i lifted him up and thus he was forced to fly.”

Super Cooper(‘s Hawk)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2009 by Dawn

Oh, that Cooper’s Hawk.  He impressed me today.

Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii

I last rehabbed him on Thursday of last week since I was unable to make it to the raptor center on Monday (my usual rehab day).  On Thursday, I saw a marked improvement from the last time I had worked with this bird (which was 10 days prior, I believe), and today I saw even more.  On Thursday, he was making his perch-to-perches (P-Ps) just fine as long as he kept himself aloft.  Once he overshot his perch and landed on the ground, however, it didn’t seem like he was able to regain the height he had after I launched him and he stayed on the perches.  Since I have not seen him gain height by himself yet, I figured that capability would come later, once his injured wing had a chance to become more flexible and strong.

Inside the flight cage.

Inside the flight cage.

Today he surprised me.  A half an hour or so into our rehab session, he began taking off from the ground and making his perch at the other end of the flight cage.  I got very excited, as I haven’t seen him demonstrate this ability so far.  I have hope for this bird.  I think he is going to wow us all with his continued progress.  He’s gained some weight during his time in the flight cage – he has gone from 10.5 oz upon arrival to 12 oz today, which means he is not a large bird.  In fact, here is a photo to illustrate just how not big he is, compared to other birds I’ve worked with in the past:

Cooper's hawk compared to my hand (which is markedly larger due to the gloves).

On a completely unrelated note, I wore my Vibram Five Fingers shoes to rehab today, and they are spectacular.  They are the next best thing to being barefoot, and my feet have been thanking me for wearing them.  I wore them while gardening on Saturday and my feet weren’t nearly as sore as I expected them to be. 

My fivegingers.

I started wondering recently about birds’ intelligence levels and the way they use their brains.  Of course, we all know that parrots and crows are extremely intelligent.  But what about other birds  – various species of hawks and other raptors (like owls) and song birds?  Does the derogatory phrase “bird brain” really MEAN something?  I am going to have to do some more research on this.  There are few websites out there that look reputable so I’m going to try to find some books on the subject.  I probably have one, but don’t realize it because I buy so darn many books, thanks to the used bookstore at the Iowa City Public Library.

In regards to the intelligence of Cooper’s Hawks in particular, I was unable to find any useful information in a simple Google search.  I did, however, notice several entries that used such words as “clever,” “sneaky,” and one blog that I found had this to say:

I am not sure if there have been formal studies on the intelligence of the Cooper’s Hawk, but my own observations support the theory that this species has above average I.Q. There is no question in my mind that the Cooper’s Hawk “hides” behind things – trees for sure but also man-made structures like garages and rooftops prior to launching into its attack flight. 

If anybody has thoughts on the topic of bird intelligence, particularly relating to raptors or songbirds, please feel free to chime in!