Spring 1977 --- Summer 2013
Those of you who receive our holiday card were made aware in 2013 of the passing of our red-tailed hawk, Tara. Now that almost a year has gone by, I am able to share her life with you here. It was truly an extraordinary one.
She left us one bright June morning last summer. When it happened, I asked myself, "Do I wait to see if it's as serious as it looks, to see if now is finally her time to go? Do I let her pass away at home? Or should I rush her to the veterinarian and try and save her life because we just might be able to?"
It was 8:30 am and the staff was preparing to go to a wildlife program. I was in the house when I heard my name called loudly. It was Kirstyn and as I hurried toward her voice I saw that she was looking over at the red-tailed hawk enclosure. She said, "Tara just fell straight off her perch to the ground."
Tara's breathing was shallow. I folded her wings into her body, picked her up and placed her back down on her talons, but she couldn't stand.
I knew what was next and I said "I'm taking her to the vet."
It was Saturday. The waiting room at Veterinary Medical Center in Woodland Hills was packed. As I rushed in the back door carrying Tara in her crate, a woman pushed in front of me with her perfectly healthy looking golden retriever and exclaimed "I was here first!" I ignored her and so did everybody else.
Dr. Stan Kunin has been treating our Wildworks animals for 15 years with one emergency after another and every time it's the same. Almost immediately he put things on hold and came to help Tara. We shuffled into a room where he examined her. She was a good weight. We tried subcutaneous fluids and vitamins. X-rays were taken and there was no fluid in her lungs.
Dr Kunin looked at me and said "This might be the end of her life."
With the sad news, I began the drive back to Wildworks with Tara in her kennel on the seat beside me. We were about half way there when I glanced over to see her struggling. I pulled to the side of the road, opened the kennel and gently placed Tara on my lap as she took her last breath.
Tara the red-tailed hawk was important not only to us, her human caretakers and friends, but as an ambassador for her counterparts in the wild. She was truly an inspiration to the literally thousands of children and adults who viewed her in classroom and park presentations over her 36 years as a traveling wildlife educator. It's hard to even begin to describe just how special she was.
Tara Joins Wildworks
We were in the right place in the right time when a raptor rehabilitation center in Simi Valley closed its doors. Wildworks was in the beginning stages back then, and I barely had the permits in order, when I received a call asking if I could rehome an imprinted female red-tailed hawk.
I paid a visit to the facility where they directed me to a solid square wood enclosure made out of old garage doors. I looked in the one small, barred window and saw her perched inside on a close branch, her soft eyes looking out at the sky. "I'll take her." I said. And that was that.
Tara at Wildworks
When she came to us I was told she was 20-years-old and she brought with her some work obligations. Our first job together was at Leo Carrillo State Beach. It was largely due to Tara's inspirational presence at dozens of Saturday night campfire programs over the years, our wildlife educational work with California State Parks continues to this day.
Later, at Lemonwood Elementary in Oxnard, we met a special teacher named Regan Nelson who continued to hire us year after year. When Regan retired she came to visit Tara at Wildworks on a regular basis and became an active volunteer and donor.
Tara was my role model. She was calm and dependable and so hard-working. Tara never complained. When I didn't feel like doing those things that I had to do but was tempted put off, I would think of her. And I would ask children at our school programs, "Do you ever wake up in the morning and want to stay home from school?" All heads would nod yes. "Do you try and talk your mom into letting you stay home ?" All heads nod yes. "Sometimes does your head start to hurt or maybe you have an imaginary stomach ache? Giggles. "Well, guess what? We adults sometimes do the same thing. But Tara doesn't. She's never missed even one day of school or work. Almost every day, as the perfect traveling ambassador, she jumps on the glove and into her airline kennel, traveling to classrooms like this throughout Southern California so that people like you can see a beautiful bird up close. How 'bout a hand for Tara?"
Tara was a true native. She was hatched in the Santa Monica Mountains long before, cell phones or the internet and before there was traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway. During her 16 years at Wildworks she participated in over 2400 wildlife programs. Many of these programs were held at local park sites. Appropriately, her final public appearance was at the Santa Monica Mountains Science Festival in the spring of 2013.
There will never be another Tara. Fly Free!