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by Calah BeckwithLead Wildlife KeeperWhen we say we provide a life-long home for raptors with disabilities, we really mean it. A good number of our raptors have been with us for more than 20 years, and the high-quality habitat, health care, and diet we provide ensures that many of these birds will double or even triple the lifespan their species could expect in the wild. In addition to providing all of the “physical” necessities for the birds who call VINS home, we also make every attempt to stay attuned to their mental needs, as well. We come to know our birds quite intimately, and we develop an understanding of their routines, habits, and normal behaviors. When a bird begins to deviate from these routines and behaviors, we make every attempt to find the cause of the change. A few months ago, we noticed a behavior change in a male red-tailed hawk who has been a member of our raptor education team for many years. This particular bird LOVES his food and has always eaten every last bit of food provided. Despite the injury to his wing and limited flight ability, he’s always been quite agile and mobile. One week, we noticed that he had gone three days without eating any of his food. We also observed that he had developed a bit of a limp with one leg. We did a full examination and did not find any outward injuries. Now this hawk is at least 20 years old, though he could certainly be older. He arrived at VINS in 1998 as an adult, and we believe him to be a few years older than that. He is certainly a senior citizen, and his behavior and limp led us to believe he was suffering from arthritis. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to eat, he was just having trouble accessing his food. When he did get to his food, though, he had trouble lifting the mouse clinched in his talons up to his mouth.
We started him on an anti-inflammatory to help with arthritis-related pain and stiffness, and we began to hand-feed him to ensure that he received sufficient nutrition. He took all of this in stride and was a very cooperative patient. Obviously, his arthritis would prevent him from being comfortable siting on a glove and participating in education programs. So we made the decision to retire our beloved red-tailed hawk. Retirement at VINS means a cushy life as an exhibit bird with lots of space to move around, trees to sit in, a forest to gaze at, plentiful food – and no expectation of being handled by people. He thrived as an avian ambassador and glove-trained education bird, but even red-tailed hawks deserve a rest after a job well done.After a few weeks of medication and hand-feeding, our red-tail started showing signs of improvement, and he was eating on his own and bouncing around his enclosure like a spry youngster. Just this week, he made the transition to our exhibit area; and one of the perks of his new home is that he is sharing it with a female companion. Within minutes of his introduction to his new habitat, he was sitting next to the female hawk and they were chatting up a storm. He settled in like he had lived there forever, and the lady hawk seems to enjoy his company. A well-deserved retirement for a hard-working, much-loved bird. Congrats, red! Come to VINS Nature Center to visit all of the birds who call VINS home, and see the red-tailed hawk in his new habitat. He loves visitors!
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