I often joke that I live in an urban version of Mayberry. Even though my neighborhood is within walking distance of Uptown Charlotte, it has a distinctly small-town feel. We have a colorful cast of characters. Thanks in part to the front porches, small lots and sidewalks, we get to know each other. News travels fast.
Recently, a red-tailed hawk brought many of us together, in unexpected ways.
One evening, I happened to see a post on Nextdoor from my friend Elaine who lives just a couple blocks away. She reported that an injured red-tailed hawk had been hanging around in the vicinity for several days and asked people to keep an eye out for it. The folks at Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center had tried multiple times to secure it, but unfortunately it had eluded capture.
I wondered if it was the red-tail I had spotted around the corner earlier that day when I was on my way to the grocery store. The hawk was near the sidewalk, eating what appeared to be a rat. This scene was remarkable enough to grab my attention, but not so uncommon that I thought anything was amiss. When I read Elaine’s post, I regretted my decision not to stop and take a closer look.
Next morning, I alerted my neighbors at and around the corner. Allison, at the end of my block, replied immediately. A red-tailed hawk had perched in the gnarled cherry tree in her front yard all night, and it was still there. She had called the rescue group, and they were on their way.
Two young men soon arrived in a bright blue Jeep Rubicon, dressed as though they’d received the call at church or perhaps at brunch with friends. Keenan scrambled up the cherry tree and proceeded to shake the limbs. They had no hope of rescuing the hawk unless they could get it on the ground. The hawk hopped to an even higher branch, well out of Keenan’s reach. After some strategizing, Allison went to fetch a broom.
Keenan poked at the hawk until it dropped to the ground. The hawk scurried toward some camellias in the corner of the front yard, but Keenan was equally quick. He positioned himself between the bird and the street then threw a large towel in its direction. His first attempt fell short, and the hawk took off running through the side yard with Keenan in hot pursuit. They were soon out of sight around the corner of the house, but before we could gather ourselves and follow, Keenan came back into view, triumphantly holding the towel bundled against his chest.
He took the time to show us the bird, now relaxed in his firm but gentle grip. It was a female, he said. They’re generally larger than males. To my eye, her coloring was pale, not the darker shades of a typical red-tail. He extended her powerful but fragile wings. The right one was fine but the left one was broken at the tip. He figured she had been clipped by a car, a common occurrence for urban raptors.
From Keenan’s quick physical assessment, he could tell she had been injured for a while. Her talons showed unusual wear and tear, probably because she’d been forced to walk on them due to her injured wing. He speculated that she’d also used her talons to help lift herself into the cherry tree. Her crop was bulging, indicating that she had eaten recently, which was in line with what I’d observed the previous day. While the fact that she was still capable of hunting was in some regards a positive sign, he was a bit concerned that she could have consumed a poisoned rat.
Keenan asked if we knew of anyone in the area who put out bait for rats. I noted our proximity to a grocery store, restaurants and bars only a block away – the blessing and the curse of an urban neighborhood like ours. An injured hawk might be forced to target a rat that was weakened from poison. I had a sinking feeling about her prognosis, but Keenan seemed to take it in stride. He said they’d extract the rat from her crop as soon as they got her back to the clinic. He felt good about her potential to recover from her injuries. As he was putting her in a cardboard box and preparing her for transport, I asked if they could name her Magnolia in honor of the street where she was rescued.
I got his contact information and told him I’d like to follow up on her status. Before I could do so, I happened to hear, from another neighbor and friend, the bizarre prequel of how the hawk had been injured. Tune in next time for rest of the story.