Injured red-tailed hawks receive donor tail feathers and fly – Monterey Herald

SALINAS – You’ve seen them, soaring over open valley fields or through woods, and often perched on roadside posts. The most common and familiar large hawk in North America, the red-tailed hawk is both bold and majestic, with its reddish-brown tail feathers and broad wings, designed for effortless flight. Until they can’t anymore.

Since December, the SPCA Monterey County Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center has rescued 45 emaciated red-tailed hawks, some of them too sick to survive.

“Almost all of the hawks were starving, and each had a few superficial issues, wounds indicating that another hawk or other animal may have attacked them,” said Ciera Duits-Cavanaugh, director of the Wildlife Center. “Since nearly all of them are first-year birds, we suspect they either aren’t finding enough prey or are not doing very well at hunting.”

If several species of falcons were rescued, Duits-Cavanaugh could presume widespread disease. But, as only red-tails arrive, she attributes a combination of circumstances, including a very good breeding year in the spring of 2021, leading to a shortage of prey to meet needs. Also, with so many young birds in the wild, she speculates that they may have separated from their parents before they had enough time to develop their hunting and survival skills.

Many of the birds, too weak to fly and therefore grounded, she said, probably ran around trying to stay away from predators, which wore and broke their tail feathers.

“Unfortunately most of the falcons we received died within the first 24 hours of care,” Duits-Cavanaugh said. “We pick them up at some point during the day, try to stabilize them, and then come back in the morning to find them dead. We like to think we’ve made them as comfortable as possible, but it’s just too late for some of them.

Yet the story of two young hawks has a happy ending, thanks to the intervention of the wildlife team, who gave them new tail feathers from donor birds and released them into the sky.

“The first falcon was found in Tres Pinos, on the ground and flightless, with an injury to the mouth and near the eye,” said Beth Brookhouser, vice president of marketing and communications for the SPCA. “She had broken tail feathers and suffered from parasites. The second falcon was found on the ground in King City, also unable to fly. She also had broken tail feathers, keel injuries and suffered from parasites.

The intervention, called “impact,” required trained wildlife technicians to insert, into each broken feather stem, a small dowel stem carrying a donor feather, cut to size and secured with epoxy.

“Falcons need a fully functional tail in order to perform the dynamic maneuvers to take off, fly and hunt to sustain themselves,” Duits-Cavanaugh said. “The donated tail feathers allowed us to create fully feathered tails, which should last until the birds naturally moult new tail feathers, typically June through August.”

The two hawks were safely released into the wild on January 28 and 30, near where they were found.

The Wildlife Center continued to care for two more red-tailed hawks; an adult who arrived two months ago with a big injury and a youngster who arrived this week emaciated and weak.

“We put the young falcon in an incubator to warm up, and she survived the night,” Duits-Cavanaugh said. “She wasn’t off the hook, so to speak, but the first 24 hours are crucial. Because they come in so weak, we’re really watching the first three to five days to see if they’ll pull through.

Despite a heroic effort by the bird and the Wildlife Rescue team, the young falcon succumbed to his injuries before reaching his fifth day in care.

The wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center continues to care for 20 patients, including small songbirds, two hawks and an egret, as well as a pond turtle and a mother opossum with eight babies in her pouch.

“A month or two in the spring, we’ll be closer to 100 patients,” Duits-Cavanaugh said. “Baby season is fast approaching, so nature is filling up with very vulnerable creatures. We care for every animal found on earth, as well as seabirds and shorebirds, but sea otters are taken care of. charge by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Each year, the SPCA Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center admits more than 3,000 animals for treatment and care. Species range from large animals like bobcats, fawns, possums, hawks, owls, and pelicans, to small animals like squirrels, skunks, turtles, hummingbirds, bats, and swallows. To report a sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, call (831) 264-5427.

For concerns about mountain lions and bears, call the California Department of Fish & Wildlife at (916) 653-6420.

The SPCA Monterey County Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center gave the hawks new tail feathers from donor birds. (Courtesy of Monterey County SPCA)

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