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Protected Red-tailed Hawks rescued in Camden

Posted: December 27, 2012 5:39 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Mauney/

Morris Pest Control tech Tony Cooper had just finished up a job for a customer when he saw a car on the side of McRae Road as he headed back into Camden.

“I pulled up beside the car and asked if everything was OK,” Cooper said.

He said a woman in the car replied that she was fine, but had just witnessed a hawk get hit by a car.

“She said it flew across the street into the woods,” Cooper said. “I knew I had to do something so I pulled my vehicle off in front of her car and told her I would get it … I got my work gloves out of my truck and she showed me where the hawk was.”

Cooper waited for the bird to calm down before he attempted to pick it up. Once the bird relaxed he gently placed it in a box and transported it to the Walter M. Crowe Animal Shelter.

Director Sharon Jones confirmed that Cooper brought the bird in at 5 p.m. that day.

Jones said it was a Red-tailed Hawk that appeared to have had some head trauma.

“We put the bird on a heating pad and treated it for shock,” Jones said. “They are a protected species; you have to have a permit to rehab one. This really requires a special facility and that is why we pass them on. They are federally protected.”

Jones said the shelter contacted the Avian Conservation Center in Awendaw, near Mt. Pleasant, for instructions for transport and rehabilitation as soon as they received the bird.

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). It is also illegal under state law to injure or possess a bird of prey. Only persons fully licensed by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of South Carolina may rehabilitate injured raptors.

This particular bird species weighs between 2 to 4 pounds and can have a wingspan of up to 4 feet. It has dark brown to gray brown feathers on its back and top of its wings. Its undersides are light brown or cream and its neck is cinnamon in color. The hawk also has distinctive red tail feathers, hence the name “Red-tailed Hawk.”

This was the second injured Red-tailed Hawk found in Camden the same week. Kathee Stahl, who lives near Red Fox Road, also helped transport a hawk which had been found in the woods by two women who had been out horseback riding. That hawk had apparently suffered from electric shock.

Unlike small birds which can perch on a single power line and be unaffected, large birds such as raptors can easily contact two wires or a wire and a transformer with their great wingspread. Because of their size, raptors can also brush against a live wire while settling onto a pole-top. This makes electric shock a common cause of trauma.

“Two ladies came across it and one stayed with the bird and the other came (to my house) with the horses,” Stahl said. “I put the horses in my barn and went to get my dog carrier. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bird after retrieving it, so I called the Walter Crowe Animal Shelter. I made a few phone calls and Sharon Jones, of the Walter Crowe Animal Shelter said that she would contact Marty Daniels.”

Daniels recommends using caution and contacting experienced professionals for further instruction when coming upon injured raptors.

“The best thing to do is to approach a bird with a towel and wrap it around it in such a way that you are able to keep their talons down,” Daniels said. “Then put it in a box with a cover and keep the environment quiet (no radio) during transport. If you do find one (bird of prey), my recommendation is to contact the center because they have a raptor medical center and a program for release.”

Stahl brought the hawk to Walter Crowe, and Daniels -- who is a center board member -- made arrangements for its transport to Awendaw.

Center founder and Executive Director James D Elliot Jr. confirmed receipt of the hawk Stahl transported.

“We have transport volunteers who help us relay these birds to medical in a timely way,” said Elliot. “It looks like the bird suffered an electrical shock. There are indications on the bird’s wings that lead us to believe that. Some bruising and soft tissue damaged occurred. We still see electrocutions which are sometimes unavoidable. We don’t know (for) some time what the implications of electrical shock will be. We provide the bird with supportive care while we wait to see what happens. It seems to be doing okay, is eating and standing and is fairly alert. It still has some swelling on the right wing.”

Debbie Mauney, the center’s medical clinic director, provided a detailed description of the young hawk and its injuries. Mauney said the bird, admitted Dec. 5, showed signs of swelling along its radius and that one of its wings hung loosely.

“However, there were no fractures or wounds to explain the wing droop,” she said. “Upon further examination, we found black on the pad of the bird’s right foot, and it smelled burned. This is typical of electric shock. You often find a burned point of contact with a strong odor that resembles the smell of burned rubber.”

Based on the bird’s condition, Mauney said the staff felt there was a chance it could recover from its injuries. She said it was placed in the center’s critical care room for initial care and treatment. After 10 days, Mauney said, the bird was moved to an outdoor enclosure.

“The wing still has a slight droop (or) loss of flexion, and at this point we can only give him time. There is no treatment beyond supportive care. We are hopeful that this bird will make a full recovery and will be able to be released back into the wild, but these types of cases have very questionable prognoses,” said Mauney.

The Avian Conservation Center began as a medical clinic for raptors 21 years ago and has treated over 6,000 birds. The center also acts as the oil bird repository in the event of oil spills. In addition, the center includes an educational component and is open to the public three days a week.

The center can be reached at (843) 971-7474 or on the Web at www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.com.

Unfortunately, the Red-tailed Hawk Cooper picked up on McRae Road didn’t fare as well.

That hawk was taken to Riverbanks Zoo Dec. 7 for rehabilitation in the hopes of transporting it to Charleston, too. Riverbanks Hospital Keeper Reese Bradshaw said the bird came in with severe head trauma from being hit by a car.

“I did work with him for a couple of days,” Bradshaw said. “He could stand, but he was really wobbly and his head was completely upside down … almost touching the ground. He also had a mild hemorrhage in his left eye.”

Bradshaw said the zoo’s veterinarian assessed the bird and, during the next six days, gave it fluids, steroids and anti-inflammatories.

“On Dec. 10, the vet rechecked him and did radiographs (X-rays). He didn’t have anything broken. We even tested him for heavy metal poisoning, but that came back negative, so it was just the head trauma and his eye was pretty bad,” she said.

Finally, on Dec. 13, the decision was made to euthanize.

“We couldn’t have released him; if they’re not 100 percent, they can’t go back out there.”

(Editor Martin L. Cahn contributed to this story.)

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