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!

We’ve got video!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2009 by Dawn

Here is the video my friend Adrianne made of my red-tailed hawk release.  I was nervous…can you tell?  I don’t think my public speaking skills are up to par.  However, big kudos to Jodeane (director of the MRP) for being there and helping me out when I needed it (and for giving me this awesome opportunity in the first place).

It’s a bit long – just about 10 minutes – and the best part (the actual release of the bird) happens between 8 and 9 minutes.


Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2009 by Dawn

Thanks to everyone who voted for my blog in the Birdchick’s Birdorable Blog Contest — I won

Please stay tuned for an updated entry on the great horned owl release on May 11, plus a new entry about my very first raptor release which happened on May 16.   I fell a bit behind due to some of my other projects, but I hope to have For the Birds. back up and running.

In the meantime, here is a photo to tide you over…

This is me, having a little chat with the red-tailed hawk Im about to release.  Photo by Julie Staub.

This is me, having a little chat with the red-tailed hawk I'm about to release. Photo by Julie Staub.

Into the wild…

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2009 by Dawn

Part I – The release.

Monday evening before my rehab session at the MRP, I had the privilege of witnessing the “armpit biter” great horned owl (GHOW) being released back into the wild.   This particular GHOW had been with us for several months, so I’m sure she was ready to get back to her wild home.  

The release took place at the Iowa City home of the woman who found her and reported her injury to MRP staff.  The plan was to release the owl in her backyard, but when we arrived on site we knew it wasn’t the best place to let her go because…


…this family of ducks was swimming around in the pond, and none of us wanted to see one of the ducklings become the owl’s dinner.

To avoid a confrontation with the ducks, we ended up taking the owl about a block away where Nikki, one of the other rehabbers, placed her in a pine tree.   Though I AM going to miss working with her, hopefully we will not see her again and she will thrive among the other wild creatures.  Here she is in her pine tree:

 I’m quite sure this was the most exciting thing to ever happen in this neighborhood.

View my Flickr set for all the photos from the release.


 Part II – A misty-eyed rehab.

Monday was my final rehab session with the red tailed hawk (RTHA) in the flight cage.  The director of the MRP called me on Friday to see if I would be interested in coordinating his release, and of course I was all over it. 

His flying had improved so much in the last couple of weeks.  He had excellent speed and control, and to watch him glide to his perch is like watching a dream.  He was obviously ready to go.  I just kept watching him fly back and forth above me, and relished one of the last chances I would have to enjoy sharing such a small corner of the world with such a fantastic bird.

Watching him, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a parent whose child was graduating from college.  But I think this is much, much cooler.

Here he is, mere days away from being sent back into the wild.

And so, being the huge dork that I am, I let my eyes tear up a little bit. I was so proud of the bird, but also proud of myself for accomplishing what I have so far.

The release took place on Saturday, May 16th at 10am at the Macbride Raptor Project. 

I will miss working with this hawk, but he needs to be free.  And I am looking forward to giving him that freedom.

red tailed hawk video

Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2009 by Dawn

red tailed hawk video, originally uploaded by kitty cat bandit.

I made a little video during my rehabilitation session with the red tailed hawk on May 4, 2009.