It sure wasn’t on my family’s agenda for the day. Mark it down – one more day that I don’t get up to my studio to paint – I’m beginning to think it’s an elusive dream. But when my husband emergently called my son and me to the backyard that morning, I knew something was taking precedence. (On a scale of 1-10, he routinely scores about a “3” on “easily excitable”). As soon as we stepped outside, we could hear a cacophony of very vocal blue jays in one of our trees – and there on a lower limb, serenely perched, was a hawk in all its magnificence.
We watched as he eventually took flight, landing 25 feet away under the pine trees. We were amazed when we were able to get 12-15 feet away and he didn’t take off again. (Could we be bird whisperers?) Well, reality hit and things started falling into place – why wasn’t he flying away, why would the smaller birds stay in a tree that occupied a hawk? Why would they have the guts to even speak to this predator? After snapping approximately 85 photos, we noticed that one of his wings hung slightly lower than the other. He was essentially "grounded". We decided the situation was bigger than we were and it was up to us to get him help.
True to the old family-favorite Ghostbusters movie theme song, we looked at each other and said,
“When there's something strange,
in your neighborhood.....
Who ya gonna call?
Well, it wasn’t on Mel’s agenda either. He was already out doing his part in maintaining the Eagle Slough Natural Area before the temperature reached 108+. But, we reached him just as he was finishing up, and true to his calling, he sacrificed his plans to come to the rescue.
Now, I know you're still singing that song in your head, so you're probably picturing him in a full bodysuit, a long-handled Hawk Zapper, a backpack, and a helmet for protection - just in case the bird decides Mel is the prey. Not so, people! Not so! (I was kinda hoping he would come with the helmets – I didn’t want that thing coming at my head! Ah, but that’s another story for another time :)) No, Mel showed up in his every day attire - shorts, t-shirt, and baseball cap -bearing only a pair of long gloves and a short pole with a small net on the end to accessorize his attire. Really? Surely there was a blood bath – I mean bird bath - in store!
Mel looked at the hawk for a few minutes and immediately we had lots of information. For instance, he said he was a red-tail, a male, hadn’t been out of the nest very long, and was underweight. (You have GOT to be kidding – this guy could have been mistaken for a turkey! Well, by me, anyway.)
A falconer, Mel holds both a state and federal license, which allows him to trap and house a hawk in captivity for a time, and he knows his stuff! Apparently obtaining this license is no small accomplishment, but it is for the protection of the birds and the sport from abuse. According to www.americanfalconry.com, “First you take a written test on biology, training, and veterinary aspects of raptors. To pass you must score at least 80%. Next you have to find a sponsor to train you. He will have a general or master falconry permit, and sponsor your two-year apprenticeship. Then you must build a suitable facility to house your raptor and obtain necessary equipment. This is then physically inspected by a Game and Fish representative. After paying the state fee you become a licensed falconer. Now you can trap a raptor.”
Well, as one would expect, the bird morphed into “fight or flight” mode, which certainly made his capture a challenge. Hopping, with a few short flights over the neighbors privacy fences (the bird, not us!), the chase ensued, but our strategies began to wane, as my husband, son, neighbor Nathan, and I were ready to surrender to failure to help this bird who should have been long gone by now.
But in one split second, it was a done deal!!! With extreme skill, finesse, and the quickness of an athlete, Mel acted, and the bird was rescued! While the hawk obviously didn’t think so, he was now literally safe in Mel’s caring, capable hands. We got another hawk lesson - close-up this time - and some of us even got to touch him. Mel would take the bird home, put him in a special cage, feed him his favorite foods (the hawks, not Mels), in hopes of nurturing him back to good health – even helping him rebuild his strength in flying long distances. His rescuer knew what was best for this “little” guy and will do all he can to rehab him, with the goal of releasing him to freedom in his natural habitat when healed.
Thank you, Mel!!!!
(Note: If the bird is still unable to fly after 4-5 days of R & R at the Lodato Raptor Resort, he will be taken to Wessleman Park Nature Center for more comprehensive rerehabilitation.)
To the hawk, captivity doesn’t feel like freedom. Nor does it to us. But, really, isn’t it all in what, or who, you’re captive TO?
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners…
“But thanks be to God,
who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession,
and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
2 Corinthians 2:14