A Grounded Broadwing

This evening I spent an hour driving around with a cup of coffee, looking for some photographic opportunities. On my way home, coming across the bridge on Flocktown Road where it crosses Stony Brook Creek, I noticed a small hawk standing by the shoulder. It was about 8:30 PM, rapidly growing dark, but the little silhouette was unmistakable as a raptor. It was just standing there, virtually on the white line, staring at the truck as I passed.

I see hawks in flight all the time over Northwestern New Jersey, and down in the pinelands to the south as well. But I had never seen one standing by the side of the road. I taught the kids over the years that any time they see an animal that doesn’t run away, they should fear it. Flight is more or less the normal behavior for almost any creature we’re likely to encounter in the U.S., except under certain circumstances. That bird should not have been there, and my immediate fear was that it would be hit. That part of Flocktown is very dark, and the bridge is somewhat narrower than the main roadway.

I wheeled the truck around and came back by it. It didn’t move one inch from where it was seemingly rooted. I went up and turned around again, and came back down and pulled off near the creek, popping the blinkers. With the FJ in the way, the bird was as safe from cars as it was going to get without flying. I grabbed the camera and slowly approached the bird. It still didn’t move, though it opened its beak and lifted its wings, in a clear warning that it was obviously too weak to make good on. I worked my way up slowly and got quite close, snapping the picture you see above. I was afraid of scaring the bird out into the road, but if it had taken flight that would have been fine with me.

She didn’t. I think of her as “she” because hawks seem female to me, though I couldn’t tell you from any anatomical clue whether she is. If an egg popped out, then I would know. I stopped about five feet away and crouched as I looked her over. Cars passed, slowed, nobody curious enough to stop. She was fully fledged, and definitely looked to be a red-tail, but quite young. There was no evident injury. Her claws and legs looked good. She partially stretched her wings and I didn’t see any damage to either. She stood straight and with her head up, eyes alert. And yet she was in evident distress, and I had no idea what to do.

I placed a cel call to the Washington Township police, but they had to put me on hold and I lost the call. I had planned to ask if they knew of a rescue organization or state agency that would come get her. After all, hawks are a protected species, and this one needed protecting. I called home and my daughter Emily looked up a state agency online for me, and I called them. The young man at the action line said that there was nothing the state would do, but that he needed to take a report from me anyway. Mercifully, I lost the call.

A car came by about this time and she flapped about two feet off into the brush, out of immediate danger, and sat there. Yes, I admit, as she lay there in her misery I took her picture. I’m not proud of it, but there you are. I got back in the truck and went home. She was off the road, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could immediately do to help. She’s a small bird, but you ought to see those talons. I didn’t intend to just wade in and grab her. Too much chance of injury to one or the other party. Back at the house my daughter Olivia looked at the pictures and demanded that we save the hawk. I searched a bit and found a story of a guy who had rescued one by taking it up gently with a towel. We grabbed an old hand towel and climbed back in the truck.

Back out on Flocktown Road by the bridge, we shined a flashlight into the brush, but the hawk was gone. I was certain she had not flown off (otherwise she certainly would have done so back when some goon was leaning over taking her picture). The road drops off into a gully that contains the creek at that point, and I hoped she had not flapped her way down in there. The ticks are ferocious this year. I moved the light around, and suddenly there she was, stuck about two feet up in a shrub, kind of wedged in like she had attempted to fly, and hadn’t been able to do it.

I have never captured a wild hawk before, of any size, so I have no idea whether what I did was right or wrong. I basically walked up and wrapped the towel gently around her wings, and took ahold of her legs, equally gently. She flapped, but made no sound and really was not able to resist much. We got her home and made a place for her in our dog’s cage, which is quite large, and for the moment she seems content. I called The Raptor Trust in Millington, NJ, and they called me back at 10:20 PM. We’re scheduled to speak again in the morning, and then either we will transport the princess to Millington, or they will have a volunteer come get her. If it weren’t for the folks at the trust I’m not sure what we would have done with her.

I still don’t know what’s wrong with her; only that something is. Hopefully some people who know what they’re doing will be able to sort her out. I’d like to think she’ll survive, but honestly I’d be more hopeful if I could see some injury that I know will heal. I’ll try to follow-up and post an update on her condition as things progress.

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