Too weak to fly just a short while ago, a 5-month-old red-shouldered hawk wasted no time flying out of a container and into the wild at the Rescue Ranch Saturday.
And his or her return to the wild was much to the delight of a couple of dozen youngsters who watched as the bird quickly headed for a wooded area.
The hawk was found in early August in the Mt. Airy area, said Astrid Ermanis, a volunteer at the Carolina Raptor Center. He or she (the bird is too young to determine the sex) was weak and unable to fly. The people who found the bird took it to a veterinarian in Mt. Airy and that vet called the Raptor Center.
There his rehabilitation began, Ermanis said. As with most of the birds of prey that end up at the Raptor Center, the goal is to do what Ermanis did Saturday — return the birds to the wild. “We do not habituate them at all,” she said.
To accomplish that, she said, the birds, including the one released Saturday, are treated medically, if necessary, and their contact with humans is as limited as possible. Once the birds are deemed healthy enough, they are placed in a group enclosure — approximately the size of a tennis court — to continue their rehabilitation and see if they are capable of living in the wild.
The enclosure also provides the chance to rebuild the muscles in their wings and to get stronger in a safe environment.
Ermanis said the birds’ health is monitored daily — mainly by seeing if they’re eating properly. How much they are fed is weighed before and after to see if the birds are eating and how much.
Then once they are healthy enough they are scheduled for release. The red-shouldered hawk is common to this area, Ermanis said, and the one released Saturday should do well.
Ermanis said the birds at the Raptor Center come there for a variety of reasons — from injuries caused by fencing or other obstacles to poisoning. She said poisoning is one of the main reasons birds end up needing medical care, and it’s not due to direct poisoning.
Instead, she said, the cause is usually due to poisoning of their food source — small rodents such as mice, rats, moles, etc. Those rodents ingest poison, likely from homeowners trying to get rid of the rodents, and then the birds consume the rodents.
Fortunately, Ermanis said, the Raptor Center is capable of dealing with these issues and, mostly, returning the birds to the wild.
Ermanis said she’s released two other birds recently. One was an eastern screech owl, released along the Adler Trail at Lake Norman State Park and a Great Horned Owl in Concord.
While letting them go is bittersweet, Ermanis said, the moment they spread their wings and head for nearby trees is rewarding.