W.E.R.C. animal of the month: Red-Tailed Hawk Nursed Back to Health

‘Crooked beak,’ a red-tailed hawk, had several problems when it

The animal patients arriving at the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center range from those needing “outpatient care,” such as a small bird that perhaps flew into a window and suffered a minor concussion, to orphaned babies that require weeks or months to mature, to severely injured animals that need acute care and remain in our sanctuary for a long period of recuperation and treatment. All of these animals require dedication and expertise from W.E.R.C.’s staff and volunteers, but the long-term patients require the animal equivalent of a convalescent home.

Such is the case of the juvenile red-tailed hawk that was transferred to W.E.R.C. early in December 2004 from another wildlife center for flight time in the large raptor aviary. This allows a recuperating bird to exercise its muscles and prepare it for free flight in the wilds. However, during W.E.R.C.’s admittance exam, volunteers noticed that the hawk’s top beak was damaged and growing out at an angle.

In addition, the hawk had bumblefoot, a bacterial infection of the feet. In the wild, such deformities would cause the bird to starve to death. The hawk would not be able to hunt and eat well: A raptor needs its needle-sharp talons to catch its prey and the sharp hook and sides of its beak to tear into the food. Imagine trying to eat a raw steak – without utensils – when your jaw is asymmetrical!

To make matters worse, with nothing to keep the beak naturally filed, the top beak would eventually curl under and upward, piercing the lower jaw. W.E.R.C. hoped that the beak was not a permanent genetic deformity but was only injured in the way that a human’s fingernail is, and that it would simply grow out.

Volunteers gave the hawk the nickname “crooked beak” to differentiate it from the other six red-tails in the aviary. W.E.R.C. kept the hawk under daily observation and volunteers diligently filed down and sharpened the beak tip every few weeks. The foot lesions were successfully treated with medications. Such care requires special training in order to ensure the safety of both the animal and the person.

By the end of September, after nearly one year of care, the beak had indeed grown out correctly. The beautiful hawk was in excellent condition, well fed from its five-rodents-a-day diet and is now soaring free in the skies of South County.

W.E.R.C., the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, provides the community with rehabilitation services for orphaned, injured and sick native wildlife. Through their educational programs, W.E.R.C. encourages a peaceful coexistence between civilization and our native wildlife. To contact W.E.R.C. call 408-779-9372 or visit www.werc-ca.org.

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