Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The sad news just keeps coming...

This is not the post I planned to write on my return from a summer trip to Saratoga Springs. I have started this four times, and you will see why.

When I left, the two remaining juvies, F1 and F3, were making excellent progress in learning to hunt and catch their own food, supervised by the ever-attendant Mom and T2 who still made food drops as needed. I was having trouble sorting through and downloading so many marvelous images of the juvies' hunting runs and successful captures. They looked set for a great summer of honing their hunting skills to be ready for their migration south in late August/early September.

I'll cut to the chase...

On Sunday, 7/21, the staff at Moore College of Art saw a hawk fall to the sidewalk in front of their windows facing Logan Square. It was alive but stunned, and was taken to the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab Center. It was the male twin - F3.  (F2, the female twin, had died in early July after hitting Moore's windows in the atrium courtyard - an interior open space with trees: see post of July 3, We have lost a hawk.)

Rick Schubert and his staff at SWRC assessed F3 and concluded that he appeared to be concussed but had no other obvious injuries - legs, wings, and feet all looked fine. He was in superb condition in terms of weight, feathers, no parasites, etc, and by Tuesday, 7/23, some concussion symptoms looked better - pupils starting to dilate normally - but he was still lethargic and not eating on his own. On Wednesday, 7/24, they started hand feeding him.

On Thursday, 7/25, they took him to Dr. James Boutette, their avian go-to vet at the Animal & Bird Health Care Center & Hospital in Cherry Hill. Dr. Boutette gave him a full work up including X-rays and blood tests, which the clinic cannot do. The clinic then put out this info:

"A few things were ruled out, and he had some slightly high levels of various things, but nothing definitively wrong that can be seen. There were no fractures visible on X-ray (but that doesn't mean he didn't break one of those small, hard to see bones like the coracoid). He no longer shows physical signs of concussion (pupil reaction is normal, for example) but is still quite lethargic. What all this boils down to is Dr. Boutette's recommendation: keep doing what we are doing which is called "supportive care" - rest, quiet, painkillers, fluid injections and hand feedings. Give his body time and space to heal from the trauma it went through."  

On Saturday morning, 7/27,  Rick Schubert, Schuylkill Wildlife Clinic Director posted this update:

"The RTH from the Franklin Institute died last night. We are unsure exactly why this happened, although it is not surprising when an animal has severe blunt impact trauma from flying into a window and then falls a long distance to the ground. There is often internal damage and organ rupturing that cannot be seen, felt, or detected. The majority of red-tailed hawks do not make it to adulthood.  Both the Clinic staff and Dr. Boutette did everything possible for the bird. 

This is the reality of wildlife in the city. For four years with the Hawkcam we had fairy-tale endings, which is far from typical. Typically, the world of humans and the world of animals collide and life is brutal, ugly, and short. That’s why wildlife rehabilitators are here, to undo what little damage we can and to alleviate what suffering we can. Now we have to move on and focus on the other four hawks we are currently caring for [not FI hawks], as well as the thousands of other animals. Hopefully the last fledgling will survive and fly off and life will go on for these hawks and all the other wildlife."

Now, we had one juvie left, F1 - the last to hatch and first to fledge. He was doing fine until he was found  yesterday morning, 7/30, at 21st Street and the Parkway lying in the grass at the side of the road.  It looked as if he were mantling, but he couldn't stand up. Carolyn Sutton took him to the clinic and sent this report:

"He [F1] was lying flat in the grass, sometimes with wings spread out like he was mantling, sometimes with wings drawn in. When I approached he was alert with head feathers out and beak open. He wanted to get away, but did not seem to be able to coordinate his escape. I was able to grasp him with gloves and get him into a box [and take him to the SWRC]. Rick examined him and found nothing obviously wrong. He appeared not to have broken wings or legs; he had feeling in his toes; eyes and pupils focused/dilated normally, but he seemed disoriented. Rick thinks he may have been "rolled by a car." He's had fluids and meds and is resting comfortably in a dark environment.  Please don't call the clinic. Let Rick watch him and report when he has more definitive information."

Today, 7/31, we heard that F1 "made it through the night and ate several cut-up mice hand fed to him by Rick this morning."

So it seems that the charmed odds the FI hawks enjoyed over recent years have run out, and that the average 80-90% first year mortality rate for red-tail hawks is hitting hard this spring.

People have asked many times this month what caused the hawks to fly into the windows. I think it's really important to realize a couple of things:

• More than any juvies from past years, these youngsters started chasing small birds much sooner. Usually, in their early hunting forays they pursue voles, mice, even bugs, all of which move more slowly than birds and tend to be down in the grass and away from buildings.

• This is the first year that the fledged eyasses have hunted over in the Logan Square area where Moore College is situated. The trees that line the sidewalk in front of Moore are extremely close to the building. Young hawks chasing birds in and out of those trees who still don't have full control of their flying power are perilously close to the building. It's hard to know whether bird strike prevention on those windows would have helped save F2 and F3. Moore College has been most responsive, and plans are underway to put banners across those windows to help birds see them better.

As we cross our talons and hope for the best possible outcome for F1, let's be glad we had the privilege to follow him and his siblings from egg to fledging, and remember that wild animals, no matter how fierce and strong, and no matter how adaptive they may be to an urban setting, are always vulnerable to the dangers created by humans in their environment.

Here are a few pictures that show F1 and F3 at their best.

Though the youngest, F1 has always been precocious and determined.

            Kevin Vaughan

        Dinko Mitic

            Kevin Vaughan

It's rare to see F1 ever looking relaxed.

            Kevin Vaughan

His older brother took time to smell the flowers...

     Christopher Ryan

... and in the short time he had, enjoyed the pleasure of bathing in the Sister Cities park pool just off Logan Square.

     Christopher Ryan

     Christopher Ryan

Hoping for good news for F1..........


  1. Sorry you had to write this post. But you have done a great job filling us in on the tragic events and explaining the circumstances and the realities of a hawk's life in the city. Thank you. Keeping good thoughts in my heart for F1.
    xo GhentArt

    1. Thanks, Ghent. I worried that you and other non-FB folks weren't getting the news, but every time I started on a post, something awful happened... and the weeks went by. I'll be so happy to get to August.

  2. Thanks Della,
    Always well written, sad but true

  3. One other thing that might be a little hard to track down on the FB page, since there've been numerous posts in the past few days: both F1 and F3 were documented as having made a kill. F3 got a sparrow, and maybe two days later, F1 caught a robin. I forget the exact dates that those milestones were reached, but it just shows what progress was being made in developing hunting prowess.

    Keeping the prayers up for F1. This has been one mostrously challenging year.

    1. Donna, my next post will contain much more of the happy news I kept hoping I could share - F1 and F3 making their first kills was definitely high on the list, though I realize to call that "happy" really is not how the sparrow and robin would see it. As always, it depends who's telling the story - the hunter or the hunted - but in telling the hawks's story, the milestone of The First Kill is huge.

    2. As terribly sad as it has been to lose these marvelous young Hawks this Summer, I am relieved that you have referred to the peril they and their parents create among other creatures whom they kill and eat for their survival. Its not for us to annoint certain animals and diminish the importance and lives of others. We are privileged for the extraordinary experience we continue to have into all their worlds.

  4. Thanks Della. Although the content was certainly hard to read, it was made easy thanks to the craft put into the writing and most of all the soul poured into all of this; thanks also to Donna for the update for those of us who use RSS feeds rather than FB (Which i assume is facebook).

    I'm glad you have been able to communicate this to us, and we have been able to follow it and I hope this new developments help us to better coexist with each other. God was that hard to read.

  5. Heartbroken... but so appreciative of your communications and the photographers' work.

  6. Della, So sad to read the latest updates, but it helps that the news was delivered touched, as always, by your intelligence and sensitivity and obvious appreciation for this wonderful family. When the news is great, your humor is remarkable, but you have a deft touch in tragedy too. Thank you. Time to renew my Schuylkill donation, I think....

  7. I was glued to my computer year 1, during the following years,facebook has really helped us out of town folk stay up with this family of hawks. Thanks to Della, who has also been involved since day 1 with great pictures and blogs...this is a sad year...saying prayers for recovery of F1....still have my hawkaholics tshirts from year 1....