WERC Animal of the Month: red-tailed hawk


When it comes to wild bird injuries, the Wildlife Education and
Rehabilitation Center has just about seen it all
Colleen Grzan – Special to South Valley Newspapers


When it comes to wild bird injuries, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center has just about seen it all: Grievously broken wings, tails and legs, severe concussions, maimed eyes, electrical burns and gunshot wounds. But the red-tailed hawk that was found early in January, on the ground and unable to fly away, was a mystery.

At WERC, staff examined the hawk from head on down, according to rehabilitation protocols, and its condition appeared good at first: The raptor was very alert and feisty, his weight was a healthy 2 pounds, his eyes were clear, there was no obvious head injury, wings and tail were strong and well-feathered … But then a large, protruding, smelly mass was discovered under the breast feathers. Gentle cleansing brought into view a ruptured tube.

Nobody at WERC had seen such an injury before and it was time for a review of avian anatomy: It was either an injury to the trachea (the breathing tube connected to the lungs) or an injury to the esophagus (the throat tube through which food passes to the crop). But the bird had no trouble breathing and seemed to be eating well.

At Princevalle Pet Hospital in Gilroy, Dr. Suzanne Colbert closely examined and x-rayed the bird under anesthesia and confirmed that the bird had indeed wounded the esophagus more than a week earlier.

The esophagus was extending out and the surrounding tissue was badly necrotized, but apparently there was enough flesh around the wound to allow food to pass through. Colbert cleaned out the wound and sutured the esophagus.

Because the doctor had to remove many slivers of wood from the wound, it’s known that the bird had impaled itself somehow, somewhere – perhaps on a tree branch or a fence while he was in pursuit of a tasty rodent for lunch.

Back at WERC, the hawk will remain in critical care and on daily antibiotics until the end of the month. The hawk’s food must be cut into small pieces so it will not distend the esophagus and rupture the sutures. He is a hearty eater, fed three times a day, and now weighs more than 3 pounds. Once his medical regimen is complete and his health has returned, the hawk will transfer to a flight cage to exercise and build up his strength and vigor. The beautiful bird-of-prey’s release is planned for early spring, giving him plenty of time to search for a mate, find a nice tree to build a nest in and resume hunting pesky rodents for food for himself and his family.