With apologies to Edward Bulwar-Lytton, Madeleine L’Engle and everyone’s favorite beagle, Snoopy…it was a dark and stormy night on Sunday, and the wind lasted well into Monday. So it wasn’t too unusual that we didn’t open our back door on Monday until about 5:45 p.m., when I finally – while cooking dinner – went to empty our kitchen compost container into the backyard bin, and was surprised to see a large brown-feathered wing sticking up from just below our back stoop.
It was already dark out, and the bird’s face was down, so all I could see was the underside of the huge wing, and a similarly-colored body about 15-18″ long. From the size of the wing and the under-wing coloring (and having recently written a story about barn owls), my first thought was that it was a small owl, and I rushed inside to tell my husband. When I came back a minute later, however, the bird had retracted its wing (yay, it was still alive!), and tipped up its face, revealing that it was’t an owl at all – it had the the unmistakable face and beak of a hawk. And with its wing retracted, it was clear that it was also a bit smaller overall than I had originally thought, so maybe a young hawk.
The bird was clearly not doing well, however, and although it was still breathing and had been able to move its wing, we could see its legs weren’t moving at all, and we didn’t know how badly it was hurt, or how much longer it would live. So both my husband and I, not knowing what else to do, set aside the dinner I’d just finished making, grabbed our phones and started Googling and making phone calls…and we actually learned a lot, in just a few short minutes, about what to do if you ever find an injured raptor.
My first instinct was call was to our vet’s office (Hancock Park Veterinary Clinic). It was just before closing time, and the receptionist was a bit startled by my question, but she was very nice, put me on hold briefly, and came back with some good initial advice from the doctor:
Get a towel or blanket that can cover the bird completely, then pick the bird up carefully and place it in a cardboard box. Be sure to avoid the talons (!), and don’t give it anything to eat or drink until you can get it to a caregiver in the morning.
So I ran to get a blanket, and a big box where we could keep the hawk in a quiet room until morning.
Meanwhile, my husband Dan was searching for raptor rescue groups, and connected with the California Wildlife Center. Dan texted them the photo I’d taken (above) and they replied immediately, saying it looked like a Cooper’s Hawk.
They said we could bring the bird to them – in Calabasas – in the morning…but they also said that if that was too far for us, we could drop it off at the West LA Animal Shelter, which accepts injured birds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…and the Center could pick it up from there in the morning. This was terrific news, so I started preparing a large cage (actually, our dog crate) that we could use for a run to the shelter.
Again, though, Dan kept searching for bird transport tips as I was prepping, and he found some more good advice: use a box, not a cage, and make sure it’s small enough that the bird won’t be able to roll around in it.
So out went the dog crate and in came a large cardboard cat carrier, which was just the right size and well ventilated.
And then we went out to get the bird, which still wasn’t moving much, but was still breathing.
Dan covered it with a large bath towel, picked it up and moved toward the box…but it turned out he’d forgotten the advice to cover the whole bird before lifting it, and the hawk fought back by wiggling its huge wings loose and extending them over the top edge of the towel. Luckily, though, the feet still weren’t moving, and after a moment of panic, the two of us were able to tuck the wings down one at a time, and we quickly closed the box top over the bird. Then Dan grabbed the package and dashed off to the West LA Shelter, where the staff was indeed able to take it. Unfortunately, the staff person also said the bird’s chances didn’t look too good, especially since its legs weren’t moving…but if it survived, they would indeed pass it along to the rescue group in the morning.
So that was all we could do for the moment, along with crossing our fingers it would survive and would have a chance at a good recovery with the California Wildlife Center.
It would be nice to say that the story ends there, the next morning, on a decidedly happy note. But unfortunately, it’s not that clear. Of course, we did call the shelter in the morning, to see how things turned out. But when we asked what happened to the bird, they said it had been released (yay – it survived the night!!) to a rescue group. They said they weren’t allowed to tell us which group took it, but we weren’t deterred because we thought we knew which group it was. When Dan called the CWC a minute later, however, we were surprised when they said it wasn’t them and they didn’t have our hawk.
So now we have no idea which group took it…and that, unfortunately, is where the trail ends. As far as we know, the bird did survive at least the first night, and it was claimed by some sort of wildlife or raptor rescue organization. But what happened after that, we may never find out. We did learn a lot about what to do with injured raptors, however, which will certainly make us more prepared if somethig similar ever happens in the future. And by passing along what we learned, perhaps others will know more, too.
Finally, we do have one more piece of information. The next day, I also posted our photo to iNaturalist (the app used by the Natural History Museum and also the GWNC’s Biodiversity Project, to crowdsource local wildlife information), and several knowledgeable folks there responded that the bird looks more like a Red-Shouldered Hawk than a Cooper’s Hawk. The pattern on the feathers does seem to match, so that might be a more accurate identification than the one we originally received.
At any rate, although it was a bit harrowing at first, this was indeed a valuable educational experience…and it was great to learn that there are rescue groups available for these wonderful birds, and that our city shelters are also so involved with – and prepared for – the rescue efforts. We were truly happy to be able to help.