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Red-shouldered hawk gets gift of freedom for Christmas

By Staff | Dec 27, 2018

A red-shouldered hawk, which survived being struck on Alligator Alley and being trapped in the grill of the vehicle at the end of September was successfully released at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge a few days before Christmas.

“It was quite the journey for him both in the car and during the time with us,” said Dr. Kyle Abbott, the CROW veterinarian who performed the hawk’s two surgeries and oversaw his rehabilitation. “He came with the most unique story that we couldn’t wrap our heads around.”

The Dec. 22 release went really well.

“We went down to the Everglades, down to the Panther Refuge. There was this great area where he had a nice balance of trees, woods, grass and areas where he could perch up high and find prey,” Abbott said, adding that they also saw many other red-shouldered hawks in the area.

When the hawk was released, he sat for two minutes just staring at his surroundings.

“I gave him a little shoo with a towel and he flew right up into the large trees above us,” Abbott said.

The hawk flew around surveying his environment, as well as hanging out in the trees looking around at the other hawks after being released.

On Sept. 30, the red-shouldered hawk was admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife after the driver found the bird trapped in the grill of his vehicle. The driver was unaware that the hawk had been struck while driving on Alligator Alley on Sept. 29, but after it was found still alive, the driver worked to free it by cutting the grill plate out from underneath.

“It was certainly a big impact. I don’t know how he got so lucky. The grill part was a softer part where the air intake was. It probably kind of protected it in a cocoon type of thing,” Abbott said. “It happened to get stuck along for the ride in a protected area of the car.”

Once admitted to CROW, the juvenile raptor was found to have a fractured radius and ulna of its left wing. The fractures, which did not penetrate the skin, were relatively clean breaks.

“The surgeries themselves were pretty intense in terms of getting the bones together. That was a big challenge because of where the fracture was on its bone,” Abbott said.

Typically there are two large pieces of bone to work with to put implants in to make the bones as stable as possible. In the hawk’s case, the bone closer to his “elbow” was smaller, which created a challenge due to its size.

Abbott was able to place a metal pin through the broken pieces of the ulna and one in the radius, as well as a single cross pin. He said the pins went down into the bone to line the two pieces together.

A second surgery was done because things weren’t quite as lined up as he would have liked, Abbott said.

Metal pins were used because they are strong enough to keep the bones aligned while healing.

“They are very fine-tuned flying machines,” Abbott said of the red-shouldered hawk. “They have bones that are really light.”

Although it would be usual to keep the metal pins attached, he said with their bird patients, they remove them after they heal, so it does not affect their flight.

After the surgeries took place, and the hawk slowly showed improvements, it was moved in gradual stages to larger cages. At first it recovered in a smaller cage, but as the hawk built up its muscle mass with its physical therapy, it was moved to bigger enclosures.

“In the large cage it immediately took flight,” Abbott said, adding that he ended up doing really well with each increase in the size of enclosure.

Once the hawk was taking flights back and forth in the large enclosure, Abbott said they knew he had enough muscle mass and body mass to take flight in the wild once again.

“The bone will take some time to remodel. The bones are strong enough to be able to fly, but the bones still need to slowly remodel over time,” he explained. “He will do his own physical therapy in the wild. He will fly well enough to catch his own prey.”

While the hawk went through its two month rehabilitation at CROW, he did not have many issues with eating. Abbott said they only time he showed some issues was when he was relocated to an enclosure outside, somewhere he was not familiar.

“He was getting a lot of outside stimulus. He never lost a ton of weight. He always had a good body condition and maintained muscle mass. He did a good job of that on its own . . . building up own strength again,” he said.

The red-shouldered hawk is a common raptor, in terms of numbers per species in Southwest Florida.

“We love the raptors,” Abbott said. “We treat a lot of sea birds. For me, I have a special love for them. We are always excited to get them and be able to help them.”