Injured hawk clamored for release, took off like a shot
A red-tailed hawk recovering from being impaled by an arrow more than a month ago made its displeasure at captivity known from inside the metal carrier that held it on Wednesday morning.
The male raptor repeatedly banged against the carrier's walls with its wings and body, which is what it was doing in the rehabilitation flight cage where it had been recovering since Saturday morning.
"It was bouncing off the cage walls. It wanted out," said Mark Kocher, who minutes later opened the carrier door, allowing the raptor to reclaim its freedom. It flew into the trees at Rocky Ridge County Park as state game commission officials, the media and a number of bird-loving, camera-toting private citizens looked on and snapped photos.
"Releasing a bird is stressful. This bird has been through an awful lot," Kocher said, including the trauma of being trapped, being treated and being held captive. "Even today, being netted and put in a carrier (was stressful)."
Kocher has for about 25 years volunteered for state licensed raptor rehabilitator Mitzi Eaton of Yorkana, who is the only bird-of-prey rehabber in an eight-county area.
Elusive: Wildlife Conservation Officer Shawn Musser of the Pennsylvania Game Commission invited media and others to witness the hawk's release Wednesday at the park, located in Springettsbury Township. The impaled hawk had been spotted a number of times at and near Rocky Ridge, he has said.
The hawk took off like a shot when Kocher opened the carrier door, flying up into trees and perching.
"This bird was ready to go," Kocher said.
Musser said the hawk was shot by an arrow at least a month ago and proved elusive to catch. Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer George "Jake" Smallwood and local falconer Tom Beaver finally captured the bird Friday at John Fitz Produce, a farmer's market on Windsor Road in Windsor Township.
They used a bal-chatri trap, which has talon-grabbing loops on top and an enclosed cage to place live bait. The bird tried to take the bait — a hamster that was unharmed — and was caught about 30 seconds after the trap was set, Musser said.
'Incredibly lucky': Smallwood and Beaver met Kocher at Patton Veterinary Hospital in Red Lion, where veterinarian Dr. Kathleen Spencer-Schmidt removed the arrow and treated the wound after putting the bird under general anesthesia, Spencer-Schmidt told The York Dispatch.
"The hawk was incredibly lucky," she said, because the arrow lodge between the bird's leg and body cavity just under the skin, and didn't puncture its body cavity.
Kocher took the bird home overnight Friday and released it into one of Eaton's outdoor flight cages Saturday morning, he said. Since then, the bird has been receiving painkillers and antibiotics in preparation for its release, he said.
Eaton said the release had to happen quickly because the hawk couldn't stand to be confined in the flight cage and was in danger of injuring itself.
Musser said the successful treatment and release of the hawk gave him and other wildlife conservation officers a great deal of satisfaction.
"We're doing what's right for wildlife and nature," he said. "Nobody wants to see animals hurt ... (and) this one just needed a little help. ... It's something that really tugs at the heartstrings of people, especially nature lovers."
'I wanted to see him': Pleasureville residents Barb and Tony Thomas came out to see the hawk released, as did a number of other private citizens. Barb Thomas photographed the hawk at Rocky Ridge when the arrow was still in its body.
"I wanted to see him take off again," she said. "The only thing that could be better at this point is if they find who did it."
State and federal law prohibits people from shooting and harassing all hawks. They are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Musser is investigating the crime and said he's following a couple leads.
"This isn't just someone out hunting, trying to put food on their table," he said. "This is someone being ignorant and mean and shooting wildlife just for the fun of it, so to speak."
How to help: Eaton, who has been doing raptor rehab for nearly 30 years, doesn't get state or federal funding and relies on donations. If you want to make a donation, or if you find an injured raptor, call her at (717) 757-4420. If possible, place the bird in a cardboard box and put the box in a warm, dark, quiet place until it can be picked up, she said.
Raptors include hawks, owls, eagles, falcons, osprey and vultures. If you see baby owls on the ground at this time of year, you should leave them alone because their parents are likely still caring for them, Eaton has said.
Musser asks that anyone with information about who shot the hawk call the game commission's southcentral dispatch office at (814) 643-1831.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.