Weathering a rough night
Young hawk gets some help after being battered by storm
It was a dark and stormy night … really dark and stormy.
When the police scanner at work sounded like a talk radio show late last Monday night, I decided it might be a good idea to stay put in the office, even though the newspaper had gone to print, until the worst of the thunderstorms had passed.
According to the scanner, M-95 was strewn with downed trees and branches. My mom called to warn that power was out at Six Mile Lake in north Dickinson County.
The drive home did prove to be a combination crawl and slalom through total darkness and debris along most of M-95 and M-69, though neither had any major obstacles (thank you, local road crews or law enforcement who cleared the roads).
It was a little surreal, with lights out at most of the homes and intersections along the highways.
Yet it wasn’t until Six Mile Lake Road that I had to carefully maneuver my SUV across the top of a toppled tree to reach home. Having navigated that barrier, I continued my slow way down Six Mile Lake Road.
And then the headlights showed a sodden lump on the pavement, surrounded by scattered branches and leaves but obviously animal, not vegetation.
It was a young hawk, downed and dazed. I waited, but it didn’t move.
I briefly considered going around it or moving it to the side but otherwise letting it be. I’m a believer that wild animals are best left in the wild, especially fledgling birds that might still be under their parents’ care.
Yet in the rain and darkness, it was unclear whether this chick might be injured. Certainly, it would be vulnerable to predators if left on the ground.
After a black-billed cuckoo flew into the side of my vehicle in July 2019, I’d stashed a pet carrier in my vehicle for several years in case I came across another animal that needed help.
So in the headlights, I managed to drop a towel on the bird and slip it into the carrier.
Arriving home would offer a different round of challenges. Not only was power out, but a power line was bowed across the road right in front of the driveway to our home, so I had to cautiously pass underneath to park.
The carrier with the bird was left in a chair on the enclosed porch to finish out the night. It never made a sound, but a quick check with a flashlight indicated it had retreated into the towel.
Power remained out the next morning and the downed line meant none of us were going anywhere until a crew could make it out Tuesday. But the daylight at least allowed for a better look at the bird — and a chance to connect with retired wildlife rehabilitator Phyllis Carlson about what to do next.
Hawks are definitely birds of the daytime. This one now was out of the towel tunnel, bright eyed, though still quiet. It reacted to my approach by slightly flaring wings but otherwise didn’t seem too agitated. The feather cover was better than it seemed at first glance the night before,
though part of that might have been due to the bird being soaked and wind-tossed.
This one probably had been roosted, asleep, when the storm blew through and flipped it out of the trees, Carlson advised. Disoriented on the ground and in darkness, perhaps not long out of the nest and new to flying, it just squatted where it fell.
We both now would have to wait until the utility crews arrived to tend to the line. It wouldn’t be until afternoon that I could bring the bird into Iron Mountain for Carlson to check over for injuries.
Sitting in my office with a good pair of gloves on in case the hawk objected to being handled, Carlson carefully spread the young hawk’s wings, which were feathered enough that it should be flying, she said. It put up just enough fight to show it had not been weakened by the ordeal but not so much to worry about being overstressed. With a syringe, Carlson even managed to get the hawk to drink some water, so it would not be dehydrated.
She thought it was a broad-winged hawk, common in the region but usually not much noticed except in fall, when they gather in flocks of thousands — called kettles — to migrate to South America. “A small, stocky raptor with black-and-white bands on the tail, the broad-winged hawk is a bird of the forest interior and can be hard to see during the nesting season,” the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website noted.
Carlson judged it fully fledged, healthy and uninjured, not needing any further care — for which we both were thankful, as it would have required calls and hours on the road to get the hawk to a licensed rehabilitator now that both local practitioners have retired.
I was told to take it back where I found it, boost it into a tree and let it hopefully fly off to rejoin its parents or at least make enough noise to call them in.
But that would have to wait until the next morning. The bird stayed in my office and, as the light faded outside, tucked its head back into its shoulder and fell asleep.
Wednesday morning, I took the hawk back to the same section of Six Mile Lake Road. As Carlson had advised, I walked into the woods, eased the bird out of the carrier and helped it as much as I could — I am a short person — to climb onto a tree branch.
It sent out several high whistle calls, the first real sounds it had made thus far, as I took some photos. Then, so I didn’t potentially discourage the parents from coming in, I collected the carrier and towels and started to walk out.
When I looked back, the little hawk no longer was on the branch.
Had it fallen? Poking around, I saw no sign of it in the undergrowth.
As I left, I heard the same sharp whistle — from across the road.
While I’ll never know for certain, I like to think the fledgling managed to fly across the road, perhaps closer to where its nest had been, and was now letting its parents hear it had returned.
Carlson later reassured me, “They will find him.”
No matter what the outcome, my role was done. The rest was up to little hawk. I can only hope that I did right by stepping in.