Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rick Schubert's account of Saturday's rescue

Rick Schubert is the licensed wildlife rehabilitator from the Schuylkill Center who last Saturday rescued the female eyass, formerly known as Miss Piggy, after she flew down from the nest to street level in front of the Franklin Institute, and then was unable to get herself to safety.

This morning, Rick sent me his account of the dramatic rescue:

"Hello Hawk Watchers, this is Rick Schubert, the licensed wildlife rehabilitator from the Schuylkill Center. I would like to give a brief account of my part in this ongoing saga.

I was actually only vaguely aware of the Franklin Institute hawks before I was called out last Saturday. Gene Mancini had asked me to stand by if I was needed, which I was happy to do, but I had never actually watched the cam, as I was completely consumed with my day-to day job as a wildlife rehabber.

We treat hundreds of raptors every year, and thousands of animals overall. We currently have four baby Great-Horned Owls, two baby Kestrels, and four baby Screech Owls. In fact, the PA Game Commission just brought one of the orphaned Kestrels to us yesterday, and I just learned they are bringing us another orphaned baby Red-Tailed Hawk. Why are these animals winding up in our care, when they would be better off in the wild? Mostly, pesticides and habitat loss - all human-caused problems.

Wildlife Rehabilitation has been honed down over the years to a very precise science, and rehabbing an orphaned raptor is no exception. All of our raptors are reared with live surrogates - non-releasable animals of the same species - to ensure that there is no imprinting or "taming" of the animals. For example, Freya, our resident red-tailed hawk, was shot with a bullet and will never fly again. Jackson, our non-releasable Great-Horned Owl, was struck by a car and had part of a wing lopped off. None of the orphaned raptors I treat are raised by humans, and there is an extensive process of training them on live prey (feeder rats or quail) before release, in an outdoor flight cage that is 140 feet long. Additionally, my sub-permittee and designated raptor assistant (and future licensed rehabber), Victor Collazo performs the hack-out process for me, where the animals are released and provided with back-up food while they are being monitored. This process is used by all responsible raptor rehabbers, and has been shown to be completely effective.

When I picked up the bird up off Winter Street last Saturday, the first thing I noticed was that it was too young to be out of the nest - its primary feathers were only half out of the casings! My first reaction, and the first thing I said to Gene was, "Is there access to that window? Can I get it back in the nest?"

I was quickly persuaded that the bird was too vulnerable and in imminent danger due to the Bike Race and overwhelming crowds, and to take it back to my clinic, so I addressed the crowd that it would be best to give it supportive care, and then hack it out to the wild.

When I returned to the Clinic, the first thing I did was put a hood over its face, so that it didn't see us, and I gave it an examination (we have all of this recorded on video camera, by the way, if anyone is interested in seeing it). I noticed that the bird was very underweight and malnourished for a fledgling hawk, so in addition to being too young to fly, it was also too weak!

I'm not a falconer - my job is to fix these birds medically and get them back into the wild where they belong. I'm more concerned with basal metabolic rates and k-cals per day than the traditional nomenclature and terminology.

So, I put the bird in a canvas enclosure, with the opening facing natural sunlight, and the sides blocked from human view. Then I threw in a whole rat, which she promptly devoured. Then I gave her another one, and another one. I can see why you guys call her "Miss Piggy".

After that, and after talking it out with my local Conservation Officer, Jerry Czech, I risked taking the bird back and putting it back on the nest. I've re-nested plenty of hawks in the past, and as a rule I always err on the side of "putting it back." HOWEVER, now that I'm unintentionally involved in this Saga, I'm standing by to jump in again if I'm needed.

It's a long and winding road, becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. I trained for eight years at two different wildlife centers, and had to take extensive tests to acquire my State and Federal licenses. I've studied under Mattias Engelman of the Carolina Raptor Center, for whom I have the utmost respect. But it is more of a spiritual calling - it is only with profound humility that we attempt what we do, with respect for those who came before us, and acknowledging how much we'll never know about God's magnificent creatures.

The job of a wildlife rehabber is not to interfere - it is to UNinterfere. It is to put nature back the way it was before we humans screwed it up. In nature, not every fledgling hawk is going to make it - that is the way of things. However, with this hawk, and this nest, it is not a case of "Let nature take its course." We have already interfered: with our construction, and our cars, and our roads, and our lights, and our noise, and our pollution. Interfering is no longer an option, it's already been every sense possible."


  1. In my view, your work is heroic - I appreciate your contributions to our community, both near and far.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Rick is a gift to all wild creatures, and we are lucky to have his oversight of our hawks.

  3. Great stuff, thanks Della!

  4. Thank you so much for your loving commitment to this work. It's clear you are skilled and dedicated, and Miss Piggy deserves nothing less. We all appreciate your efforts!

  5. You have unravelled the details many of us wondered about with respect
    to the decisions that were made along the way to ms Piggy's present
    circumstance. real helpful. so neat you reached out to us. Your last
    paragraph has convinced me to get out of my armchair naturalist world
    of grieving and get over to Rehab to volunteer. have good references
    from Laura and Brenda. See ya.

  6. You're a hero. Thanks for coming to the aid of animals--a noble pursuit!