There's nothing more rewarding for a raptor rehabilitator than to see one of these majestic birds of prey take to the air again after injury or illness. On a recent crisp fall morning, California Raptor Center's manager Bret Stedman oversaw the release of three birds—one red-shouldered hawk and two red-tailed hawks.
"Of course our ultimate goal is to release birds back into the wild," said Stedman, who has been with the center for almost 32 years, 20 of those as manager. "When we watch them fly away we feel satisfaction, accomplishment and great joy."
The adult red-shouldered hawk had fallen out of a tree into a Davis resident's driveway at about 1 a.m. in mid-October. Upon examination at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the hawk was found to have a crop full of decaying meat which had caused a buildup of bacterial endotoxins in the bird's bloodstream. Clinicians emptied the crop and provided fluids and antibiotics. The bird made a full recovery.
Both red-tailed hawks had suffered slight injuries to the coracoid bone in the shoulder, Stedman said.
After raptors taken in at the center make a physical recovery, Stedman said they still need to be tested in flight cages to determine whether they can fly well enough to survive in the wild. All three hawks were deemed ready for release at almost the same time.
The morning of the release, Stedman fitted each of the birds with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife identification band around a leg while a volunteer held the hooded raptor. Many of the volunteers are UC Davis undergraduates.
"Our hope is that if anyone finds this bird again, they will report the band number to US Fish and Wildlife Service, so we can know what ultimately happens to the bird once it leaves the center," Stedman said.
The hawks were then taken to a levee road near the center to be released back into the wild. With a thrust into the air, it didn't take long for each bird to take flight and find a nearby perch.