Friday, June 27, 2008

Red-tail Foster Parenting and Tiercel Rescue Questioned.

All photographs D. Browne
Hous has lunch delivered courtesy of his foster father, Atlas.

Hous on top of the sun roof at the pool.

Atlas watches over Hous from a tree adjacent to the sun roof.

Frequent contributor Mai Stewart has some questions--
Hi Donna --

Saw your posting today. Even tho the Houston St. male RT isn't there, the female must be around -- so wouldn't she be able to provide for H2 & H3 in East River Park?

It just seems to me that they need to be released asap -- even tho they're not bonding to a human, their current situation very different from their real life.

Has H1 been successfully adopted by the Triboro family? I didn't know this was possible -- I thought RTs always defended their territories, including from other RTs. This is very interesting, if it's happening successfully (the adoption, I mean).

And great pix of Thunder, I've loved watching him on the webcam (when he's around).



Hi Mai, good to hear from you.
As you can see from the photos, the Triborough Bridge pair are caring for Hous as if he were one of their own.

Fascinatingly, as it turns out, if a Red-tail youngster shows up in a pair's territory and she's near the age of their own, they'll foster her. Whether they know the difference or don't care even if they do, is unknown. Sometimes orphaned eyasses are even added to existing clutches on the nest and all goes well,

That said, we watched closely after the release at the beginning to make sure this wasn't going to be the one exception in anyone's experience in which an eyass wasn't accepted.

As to a female taking care of two fledglings in the absence of the male, I'm supposing that if the tiercel went missing that the mom left with two fledglings on the spot would do her best to raise both fledglings and could be successful barring all the mishaps that befall any fledgling even in the best of circumstances.

I haven't been apprised of the particular details concerning the release of H2 and H3, but I'll ask.

One thing I would be concerned about in this case though, is that no one knows as yet if the infection that downed the tiercel is communicable. If it is, the female may have it as well. Perhaps her body is fighting the infection better but she'd be put at risk of being downed herself with the stress of caring for two fledglings on her own right now. Or it might even be possible that she could infect H2 and H3 with it if she were hunting for them. It would be great to be able to discount that scenario and the cultures should be ready soon that will provide the necessary information to do that or not depending on the results.

But like everyone I'm hoping for what's best for the Houston fledges and I'm hoping that going back to their family will be the action deemed best.

The thirsty Houston Tiercel looks long and fixedly at the water in the river before his trip to the vet.

I received the following from "Concerned Urban Park Ranger" in the comments section. As others who don't read the comments might be thinking some of the same things, I've moved it to the main page for my response, which follows C.U.P.R's comments.

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.
Friday, June 27, 2008 11:21:00 AM EDT

Hello A.C.U.P.R,

Thank you for your letter. I see your point that standard protocol for Hawk watchers possibly should not include handling wild creatures, though in the case of a fledgling in the middle of a busy city street who won't allow itself to be herded, it could be a tough call. I suspect it comes down to a personal judgement call on the part of the individual person involved as to their capabilities.

Speaking of which, not all Hawkwatchers are created equal, some have more training than others and that too is part of the picture. I trained for seven years as a field biologist. (Though I rarely mention it as someone tooting their own horn about their advanced education on their blog isn't the least bit attractive to my Midwestern soul.) And though I'd never specifically handled a Red-tailed Hawk, I've handled many other wild animals and birds, including a Great Horned Owl and a Mountain Lion that had been nicked by cars but were still reasonably lively though once again I downplayed that with my little aside on the blog. I've banded birds on government projects. I've rehabbed federally protected birds under the licenses of others as a student in Wisconsin.

Speaking of federal law, after the first time I herded a Red-tail fledgling across a street, thank goodness it allowed itself to be herded, I decided to look into the laws concerning federally protected species so I wouldn't be breaking any of them if one day I had to scoop a fledge out of harms way.

Here's what I found out. Part 1. Any citizen may rescue an animal which is in danger.

The tiercel had already had someone throw a stick, not at it but near it, to check if it could fly. What if it had been hit on that occasion or by someone else doing the same thing. It isn't as if I have the physical capabilities or legal authority to stop someone from doing something like that if they decide to be a jerk about it. Any animal in the city who cannot fend for itself is in danger. Besides the tiercel was sitting in the beating sun on a very hot piece of AstroTurf looking longingly at the water beyond the fence. This bird was dehydrating fast. It was mentally altered and decidedly grounded.

Part 2. According to federal law if a citizen does rescue a wild animal, they have the legal responsibility of taking it to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet within 24 hours.

As everyone would probably agree, a bird's condition and what to do about it often comes down to a judgement call by the people on the spot. And I had plenty of time while giving the bird a chance to recover if this were a transient problem to mentally explore the options. I had no concern that I might injure the hawk as I have confidence and a knowledge of my personal abilities, my shortcomings, and over the last four years, nearly daily observation of the species. I had spoken with Adam about the best way to proceed and he had agreed. Besides if I was a dolt and got footed it's my own fault not the hawks.

As to calling the proper authorities, there are many wonderful well trained educated cooperative Urban Park Rangers and folks who work for Animal Control but for some reason sometimes I don't run across those people when there is a problem.

Some examples: Some years ago when I lived in Brooklyn I came across a wounded Mallard hen in the Botanic Gardens. She was actively seeping blood from her neck due to what looked like a wound received from a dog attack. I looked around and saw no ranger. Eventually one appeared on the other side of the lake. I walked around the lake, carrying my tired three-year-old with me, and told him about the hen. He said, "Yes she's been there since this morning." I asked if anyone had been called or if he was going to do anything for her. He said,"No, it's just a duck." I marched back around the lake, wrapped my jacket around the mallard, tucked her under my arm, grabbed my three-year-old's hand, marched us all to the car, and took the hen to the vet.

Also in Prospect Park, I went looking for a ranger when I saw teenagers throwing branches at the swans. His response? A shrug of the shoulders. I went back and yelled at the projectile throwers. Though small, I can sometimes be scary. They left.

And then there was the time that the ranger I found had been a French major in college, could identify every bird in the park, but I strongly suspected had never touched one. She was perfectly nice but really didn't want to start touching them that day either.

Which brings us to Animal Control. Just like most groups of employees, some are terrific and some aren't. According to the report on the pick up of one of the Houston eyasses, a local resident had called 911 over concern for the fledgling as she was having rocks and sticks thrown at her. Animal Control arrived, threw a catch loop onto the fledgling's neck only and dragged her across the ground. (Which we know is improper use of a catch loop. Even with an animal as sturdy as a raccoon the loop is always supposed to be around the neck and at least one appendage to help prevent injury to the animal being saved. I wouldn't say that a catch loop is ever appropriate around the neck of a young raptor.) The fledgling was then put into a wire cage which isn't appropriate for a bird one hopes to release anytime soon as it tends to ruin the flight feathers.

After Adam rescued Houston 3 out of the street and she was taken away from him by a not terribly polite or informed officer, she was dropped off at Animal Control. Therefore instead of Adam being able to pass her directly off to Bobby when he arrived on the scene so he could look her over immediately, they had to spend time going to look for her at Animal Control. Where she was found in a wire cage.

Keep in mind also that when I wrote the blog about the rescue of the Houston tiercel that it was a story, a piece of writing. Some things are kept in and some incidents get edited out and therefore it isn't the full scenario. Plus emphasis may shift to make it more interesting for the reader.

For instance, the park rangers walking along the fence line. To tell the truth on reflection, they had on khakis but I've no idea if they were rangers or just park workers trying to decide if they needed to herbicide the vegetation along the fence as they were both 50 yards away. I was thirsty, hot, and tired. The tiercel was thirsty, hot, tired, and sick. If the workers had called to me I would have stopped, but as they didn't I went about doing what was best for the bird-- getting him off the ground, out of the sun, and to a place of far less stress. I could have approached the folks in khaki and found out if they were rangers or not but that would have taken time and entailed a lengthy explanation about the bird in the box, standing on hot AstroTurf, in the sun. Then there would have been at least another half hour of the poor tiercel inside the plastic box heating up without care or water while we waited for Animal Control.

As I've said, there are many super rangers and city employees that I've worked with and had great experiences with, but one never knows what the luck of the draw will be and therefore I tend to make a judgement on any given day and situation about what the best way to proceed is for the animal concerned.

In short, it was a judgement call and I feel okay about what I decided to do. Particularly, when I spoke to Bobby Horvath later in the day and he told me I'd saved the tiercel's life.

Donegal Browne
P.S. Hey, A.C.U.P.R, hit the contact button and slide me an email. I'd love to get to know you better.


Karen Anne said...

I want to chip in a comment here, having read about the removal of one of the Houston eyasses on another website.

It was frightening and sad to read the laughing and disparaging comments of the authorities (some of them apparently police) when people there tried to reason with them about not handling the fledgling roughly.

Also I have read other comments about park employees ignoring concerns from the public about animals being mistreated by other members of the public, or poison being around.

My impression is that, although doubtless there are people concerned with animal wellbeing in these groups, a great deal of education needs to be done with both park employees and the police about the best way to handle animal situations.

Everyone, esp. the animals, would be better off if this were the case.

Esp. I would add, although that is not the situation we have here, about not necessarily removing a healthy fledgling from its parents but instead having a knowledgeable person take it back up to a higher safe location.

Karen Anne said...

About redtail adoption, I have been following the Derby peregrine webcam, and a discussion recently happened (I think maybe in the comments section) about two wild baby peregrines who had been orphaned.

The authorities placed the young in the nests of wild peregrine adults who were already raising young, and the parents took care of the adoptees as though they were their own young.

I think the two young birds were placed in two separate nests, if I remember correctly.

Sally said...

Dear Donna,

Excellent response to the ranger and Thank YOU and the others for your willingness to drop what you were doing and help the downed hawk. I am sure the ranger means well also, but obviously doesn't know who you are! And your examples of previous encounters with rangers and animal control will hopefully give this concerned ranger a reason to re-examine how their own people are trained to perform their duties. Perhaps it will lead to improved behavior on their part as well.

When we do education programs here we try to be sure the audience knows that if a wild animal is in immediate danger and they have to remove it from danger they can legally do so but must not keep it, they must get it to a licensed rehabilitator within 24 hours, as you have said in your response. Of course people shouldn't go around willy-nilly picking up wild animals but obviously that is not what you did. I enjoy your blog and had never really noticed the comments section before; I had wanted to say thank you without filling your email box with junk!

Anonymous said...

Loved the clarity and scope of your response to the Ranger.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Donna

I think it may be appropriate to point out that

1) The Houston male has been found to have a severe infection. He probably would have died had he not been picked up. He is still not yet out of danger. (Kathy Horvath found a small injury on his leg - he may have sustained a bite from a squirrel or rat, or been injured in some other way. This may or may not have been the source of his infection.) It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise those who intervene to act on behalf of the hawks, who are damned if they do and damned if they don't; if you were to have left the Houston male on the ground to die I'm sure your inbox would have been filled with hostile email, too.

2) The Houston female, alone, would have a harder time raising Houston chicks 2 & 3 than with the male being around. As you know, the possible release sites in that neighbourhood are not ideal. The 'safe areas' are very small. There are huge roads around, construction, and a lot of people. It is legally up to Bobby Horvath to make the call whether to release the young birds back in that area, or to get them raised up and hacked off into the wild someplace safe. No hawkwatcher can make that judgement call. Any rehabber worth his/her salt will tend to release a bird into the care of its parents (besides anything else, it's much less hard work than raising the youngster and teaching it to hunt over months and months.)

3) As soon as Bobby lays his hands on a bird he is obligated to be responsible for it, and obligated to act in such a way as to maximise its wellbeing and chances of survival. Again, there are a lot of amateurs out there who have never handled a bird, never looked after one, never made one well and released it into the wild. Bobby has done that his whole life. Rather than fling off accusatory emails in all directions, people may do better by learning something more about the difficult choices that need to be made in these circumstances. Bobby is not a wild animal trader. He does not sell animals into captivity. His aim is to see Houston 2 & 3 fly free under circumstances that maximise their survival chances. Although it's sad that the Houston St neighbourhood is down to one hawk, Bobby cannot ethically be releasing birds back into a situation where there chances of survival are lower than the alternative situations, for example being raised and hacked off in a rural part of the State (his primary obligation is to the birds, not the Houston St neighbourhood, or couch-potato know-it-alls who have never held a raptor). If he thinks that Houston 2 and 3 will have a good chance with only the female to raise them in that area, he will release them. If not, he won't.

4) Some people may question why, with my filmmaker hat on, I picked up Houston 3. Perhaps I should have just let the drama unfold before my camera. I certainly would have had a fantastically compelling sequence for my film! After all, I'm not a bunny-hugging animal rights activist or an avowed vegan. But I'm also a conservationist that cares about the creatures I'm involved with, and a part-time raptor biologist. (My friends laugh at how it takes me an hour longer than anyone else to drive across the Karoo, the wonderful semi-desert area in west-central South Africa, because I'm always stopping to take tortoises out of the road, or killing the half-dead ones with broken backs that have already been hit.) Houston 3 was in danger, and I could do something about it better than anyone else around. At the time it was a simple act - just get the poor guy out of the road and into safety. When I realised that safety was relative (an area filled with tens of screaming people or a dirty catbox roughly held by a gruff policeman) I picked the lesser of two evils. I certainly would have liked Houston 3 be released into the care of his parents in his neighbourhood, but that wasn't possible then. As soon as I picked up Houston 3 it was like I had a contract with him, and it was then up to me to make the tough decisions as to his future under less than ideal circumstances.

Again, it's very easy to sit in the bleachers and fling rotten Twinkies at the players on the court. There are no perfect answers in these circumstances, although a lot of people will try to convince you that there are. I hope the readers of your blog will in future consider this before firing off hostile sentences in all directions.


Adam Welz