Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Photograph by Francois Portmann
7:30am I'm asleep and I haven't been asleep all that long when suddenly I hear Harrison Ford say, "I'm Indiana Jones". A bull whip cracks and the Indiana Jones music swells up...it's my phone. Geez, it's my phone. Samantha, my daughter, had downloaded it "for me". Adam Welz is on the other end saying something about Francois, and the Houston tiercel. "What?"

I admit it I'm not a morning person. Yes I watch birds, but in the morning? Only on special occasions. I do not keep a life list--Am I still a birdwatcher? "What did you say, Adam?"

He repeats, "I said, Francois Portmann went over to..." Adam yawns, "Went over to East River Park and the Houston Dad is just standing there."

He also said some other things which are all rather fuzzy, but that was the important gist. I call Francois. He's tried calling the Horvaths and gotten disconnected. I say, "I'll grab a cab and come over."

I press the rest of the family into service, "Cat carrier. I need one of the cat carriers. Where are my welding gloves?" I go in search of a towel. The only one that isn't too heavy is Sam's Harry Potter Towel. She's pretty asleep maybe she won't notice. Maybe I actually brush my hair, but then again maybe not. Money for cab and out the door. But not quite, a voice catches me half way. "Mooooom, that's my Harry Potter towel."

Stunningly I get a cab without too much trouble with a very friendly driver, originally from India who is wearing an absolutely stunning, bright yellow silk turban. Quite smashing actually, but a little brilliant for me at the moment. He asks, "Do you have a little kitty in the box?"

I say no, and go into the hawk on the ground and...Hawk? Hawk doesn't seem to be in his rather extensive vocabulary. Why should it be? Explanations ensue. We make it to Houston and the FDR and I give him a blog card so he can see how the hawk thing turns out.

Francois is way over on the far side of the AstroTurf baseball field. I know, whatever possessed them. Houston Dad is standing by the fence, not looking very good. Why? Because he's just standing there on the ground, staring. Not a bit normal.

Originally the formel had been close flying around in agitation. I assume attempting to convince him to get off the ground. Francois said when he came close she perched on the fence a ways down , and then went into a tree where she was no doubt still watching. Poor thing, first her kids and now her mate.

At some point in all this I've talked to Cathy Horvath who says, "Maybe he was flying around, chasing a pigeon, and he's just really tired." Hmmm. Maybe she wouldn't say that if she could see him, but then maybe again she would. We decide to watch him for awhile. Francois wants to go get his camera. No problem. I'll watch.

But Francois points out I shouldn't watch too obviously or someone will notice the bird and possibly call Animal Control, which would just complicate matters. Right, I'll watch but pretend I'm not.

I look at the carrier. I look at the bird. He's still staring. No drooping wing. No panting. No blood at least that I can see. His feet look okay. Wait, he just picked up on a bug flying by. That's hopeful--maybe.

The park isn't busy, but a jogger goes by in a bright yellow jogging suit. What is it with the bright yellow this morning. Maybe I look at the bird and give it away because the jogger suddenly notices and runs back a few steps, then forward, then repeats. He looks at me, the cat carrier, the welding gloves. I smile. He looks befuddled, then jogs away.

The AstroTurf is really heating up. The sun is really beating down. This can't be helping Mr. Houston. His nictitating eyelids close for what seems like a little too long...wait, he's scanning bugs again. Back to the 1000 mile stare.

Francois returns. I ask if Cathy had any suggestions. He said, she said something about a friend at the ASPCA.

The ASPCA? Do I know anyone there? Nope. Besides I think this guy needs medical attention.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
I go closer. He doesn't try to put distance between us. What do you think Francois? Not good. I agree not good.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
I try to call the Horvaths. No answer. We stare at Mr. Houston. It's really hot on this AstroTurf.
Okay, he's been standing here for hours and doesn't seem to be aiming to start moving any time soon. Poison? Concussion?

Some giant piece of earth moving equipment, which is horrendously noisy, trundles past Mr. Houston on the other side of the fence. No response. Okay, that's it. I make a decision. I'll take him home and put him in the dark in my second bathroom. Then at 1:00pm the rehabbers come into Animal General and I'll take him up there.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Time for the gloves. Francois says, "Have you done this before?"
"What, pick up a Red-tail? No. But I've picked up lots of other things." I don't mention that many of them have been, dead, unconscious, or seedivores. Why worry him?"

You will notice that there is no photograph of Mr. Houston going into the carrier. Because once again the photographer became part of the action. The tiercel could spread his wings and run a few steps but that was it. Francois got the towel over him, and he just went flat, completely spent.
I held his feet as a precaution but he was so gone that when I slid him into the carrier, he just laid there.
We close him up and a construction worker on the other side of the fence, tells us that the tiercel had been there ever since he'd come in very early this morning. And then he told us the pair come every morning to a tree in the construction area and the guys watch them hunt squirrels. I ask, that if we put the fledglings in there would the guys keep an eye on them too and Gerome said, "Sure."
At least that's very good news. The parents when healthy will have no trouble finding their babies in the park as they come every day.
Francois and I turn from the fence to leave and I notice that there are two park rangers, one to the left end of the fence and one to the right end. And they're walking the fence line, closing in on us. Did someone report a downed hawk? At any rate, we're on our way.
Francois grabs us a cab and tiercel and I head for my apartment and the dark cooler bathroom.

Tiercel in the low light of the bathroom. He had his beak hooked on the bars. He looked so limp I wondered if he couldn't get his beak off. I went to see if it was uncomfortable by raising it to see if it was stuck. No. And my touching his beak did not raise a response. Not good. I take the one photo, close the door and allow him to unstress if possible.
In the meantime, I hear Indiana Jones again, and Bobby Horvath is on the phone. He's sorry he missed the call and he'll come in and get tiercel. Great, I say.
Then once again, it's Harrison Ford, this time it's Cathy Horvath. Change of plans take him to the Animal Medical Center. Oops that's pretty close to where I just came from compared to where I am. I get instructions.

10:33am After a rest in the darkened bathroom, Houston Tiercel is standing up again. This is a very good thing. Pancake hawks worry me.

Once again I get packed up to hit the streets of NYC. I set tiercel down for a moment by the door to get my hat. Chekhov, our Maine Coon cat walks past, catches a whiff of tiercel and goes from 0 to 100 in a quarter second...hair on end too. Later, even with the carrier empty the parrot flings himself and screams when he goes by. Wow. Wiring is a fascinating thing.
The Animal Medical Center is a trip in itself, the bulk of which tale is for another day. But as they brought the cat carrier back to me without the towel--remember the Harry Potter towel? I couldn't go home without Harry Potter. It turned out they were using Harry in the exam so I got some tidbits when the towel showed back up. No fractures and they were giving him fluids. Seemed like a good start. The Horvaths also requested x rays, and blood work including tests for anti-coagulant poison. Cathy called both Francois and I with the update and the blood test results should be in very soon, conceivably Wednesday.
As the formel at Houston had already been banded in the Horvath's care, as now have all three fledglings, Dad will go to the Horvaths for rehab, a short one we hope, for the first time that I know of in New York City, we will have a complete family of Red-tails that are banded from one of the urban nests.
Well, that was an interesting morning. I decide to go check on the Triborough nest family in Astoria Park.

But Francois has made it before me and taken this luscious photo of Hous, practicing his ballet moves on the bar instead of with it.

Also, by Francois, here comes Hous. Just look at that wingspan and nice positioning too.

I just miss Francois at Astoria Park, but I find Peter, one of the main local watchers, and we find Atlas watching over Hous. Look at that raised foot.

And we mustn't forget the clever zen Trib. His flying is starting to come along as well. He's just more subtle. Speaking of subtle I didn't even get a decent look at Athena today.
When I brought this photo up, it was very familiar. Sam walked by and said the same.
The face is really quite similar to the photo of--
Eldest of the Cathedral nest in 2006.
Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

Why are there missing feathers on Trib's chest? I saw a photo of a fledgling with missing chest feathers on Lincoln's site recently, but I don't recall if it was Trib.

Is this some usual thing?


Yojimbot said...

Nice save...thanks Donna! I bet your cats wont look at their carrier the same way again. Really a shame that these hawks keep getting into so much difficulty. All the best,


Anonymous said...

Two things:- well, three.........

1. Your my heroine!

2. Where do you get your energy?????

3. Wherever, I'm so glad you've got it.


Donegal Browne said...


Thank you, but it was a real group effort. So the thank you goes to everyone involved. The phone lines were buzzing.

Francois Portmann, a Houston Hawk watcher and photographer, who'd gone to the park to check on the morning presence of the Houston pair, spotted the grounded tiercel with the formel flying agitatedly above him. After a phone glitch made him unable to contact the Horvaths right away, he called Adam Welz, the South African film maker who had rescued Houston 3 out of the street so Francois knew Adam was experienced with hawks and might have help or advice for him. Adam who had recently relocated apartments to a friend's in New Jersey, was nearly as geographically far away as the Horvaths and as this sounded like an emergency, Adam called me.
I, who am known (she admits sheepishly) for collecting damaged and stray animals as well as having a house full of them, have an assortment of carriers and a sturdy pair of welding gloves for just such occasions and was much closer, hopped into a cab armed with Francois's precise directions as to location and made it to the site as fast as I could.

Once again we see how citizen hawk watchers in the field, at all times of the day and night, armed with cell phones full of relevant phone numbers can really make a huge difference for wildlife.

Another thank you goes to Cathy Horvath for alerting an avian vet at the Animal Medical Center that Mr. Houston was coming and setting up a reception and immediate care for him.

Plus a thank you to Prit, the avian med tech for getting daughter Samantha's Harry Potter towel back after it was used for Mr. Houston's exam and keeping me from getting into trouble.

And then yet another thank you to Bobby Horvath for coming in from Long Island yesterday and picking up Mr. Houston and the 114th St. female fledge Red-tail and taking them back for rehab.

Wow, now that I've written down the whole complicated sequence I'm even prouder of everyone for making it work.

And I also realize it wouldn't hurt a bit if we worked a standard protocol amongst the hawk watchers and other players for future use.

Donegal Browne said...


You're absolutely right. Even though I scrubbed the hawk's carrier of lysol, I'm afraid Chekhov is never going to feel quite the same way about it.

I don't know if it's post traumatic stress (that's a joke) or some lingering odor in the plastic but her hair still stands on end when she goes past it.

It has therefore become the families official "hawk carrier" from now on. In the past, besides cats it's been used to take Tip and Edge our two orphaned white and black spotted pigeons to the vet. I have a feeling the girls aren't going to like it much either from now on.

Donegal Browne said...

Karen Anne,

Yes, the bare spot over Trib's crop is completely normal. It's most often visible when looking at the bird from straight on and when the crop is distended.

Check out the top photo of Hous in Thursday's post above this one. He too has the bare spot as do all Red-tailed Hawks in their juvenile feathers to a greater or lesser degree depending on age.

Thank you for asking the question. Others have wondered about it as well and I'll talk about it in a little more depth in an upcoming post.

a concerned urban park ranger said...

First, allow me state that I know you had the kindest intentions and were not malicious in any manner. I do not doubt for one second that you are always looking out for the best for any animal in need. With the animal's best interests in mind, I know you will appreciate this advice...

Standard protocol among hawk-watchers should not include handling an animal that you've never handled before in your life. Although you may have been told over the phone how to do it, and it may have seemed simple enough, you could have seriously injured the bird or it could have seriously hurt you, end of story. I know that Adam and Bobby would agree on this. So, while it did turn out well in the end, it was a risk that probably should not have been taken no matter how dire the situation seemed to be at the time. In short, you could have mishandled the bird and injured or killed it.

Another thing to note is that you probably should not be grabbing federally-protected birds and hopping into cabs as park rangers approach you. That may be bordering on illegal activity, I am not exactly sure. If that bird died in your possession you could have theoretically been charged with a federal crime, although the judge would have likely tossed it out immediately since you were acting out of good faith. But, all legalities aside, just please note that we are all on the same side, all concerned about the welfare of animals. I was a bit disheartened to read that part of your story. While there are not many urban park rangers in the city, we have all been trained and handled raptors at one time or another, so please do not hesitate to call 311 and reach out to us. It is a part of our job, we are legally allowed to handle them, so you really should defer to us, Animal Care & Control, or the ASPCA. We all work almost exclusively with the Horvaths, so there should be no concerns.

In closing, as a hawk lover myself, I am happy the rescue went well. Congratulations as I am sure it was quite the adventure! I know it is the dream of many a hawk-watcher to handle one of these amazing creatures in a time of need, but in the future, I think it would be in the best interest of the health and well-being of the hawk to let those trained and experienced handle it. If a hawk is about to be run over by a car, by all means move it off the road, but if it is in a controlled environment and has not moved in some time, there is no harm in keeping an eye on it and calling the appropriate authorities who would arrive there quickly. I know that you did talk with the Horvaths, so perhaps you just did not know you could have reached out to us as well. Consider this a formal introduction! We are here to help and any injured hawk will be taken care of properly. The last thing that I want to happen is for a hawk to be hurt further or die from unnecessarily induced stress.

All warnings and advice aside, thanks again for caring so much about these magnificent creatures. It is hard to imagine where hawks would be without folks like you. With cooperation, we can continue to do our best to ensure a healthy future for any and every raptor. Take care.

Karen Anne said...

You may know this, but lysol is toxic to kitties. I don't have it in the house, although I imagine it could be used and then washed off thoroughly.

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Karen Anne,

You're so right. Actually Lysol isn't all that good for anybody, one of the reasons it kills germs so well. So I only use it on special occasions and then rinse thoroughly inside, outside, all sides for five minutes each per section in the shower.

Donegal Browne said...

Dear Concerned Urban Park Ranger,

As your concerns may also be the concerns of others, I'm posting your comment and my response on the next mainpage post, that of 6/27/08.

Check it out.