It was an accident but exactly how it happened will always remain a mystery. The only thing that's certain is that our young Harris Hawk has a broken leg.
Her name is Queen and she came to Wildworks in the fall of 2009 from a falconer in the northwestern U.S. to work with us as a hawk ambassador in outreach presentations. Our resident rescued red-tailed hawk, Tara, is now 35 years old (one of the oldest hawks anywhere) so we decided to acquire a younger hawk to fill in for her.
This beautiful new raptor arrived at our wildlife center as a strong and healthy bird. She was sure to be a perfect candidate for traveling and working in educational wildlife programs. Much like parrots in the intelligence department, Harris Hawks are very smart and social and they can bond to other animals and to the people who work with them. In nature, they practice cooperative hunting with family members and their mates. This is one reason why they are one of the most popular raptors used in the sport of falconry. These spectacular hunting birds can live up to 40 years of age!
Queen was hatched in a protected environment in the spring of 2009 and remained in her family group with no human handling or training before being transfered to our facility. When she arrived she was sporting a falconer's hood and we began training immediately. First, she was taught to wear leashes and to be held calmly, perched upright on a gloved fist. This was easily accomplished using food as reinforcement and now Queen is trained to fly from a perch to a handler who is wearing a strong leather glove. Prior to the accident, she was covering longer distances everyday and showing off her free-flight behavior in classroom presentations. Queen is now my friend and has learned to trust me as her caretaker and flying partner.
Although, at the time, there were several people close by, nobody actually witnessed the accident. Queen was on her perch (as she is everyday in the same spot) and when I came to pick her up I noticed that something was not right. I whistled for her to fly to my glove but she fell short and landed in the grass in front of me. Then on closer inspection I saw that her left leg was dangling! Poor thing was still willing to fly to me in spite of how painful it must have been.
It was 5 pm so I quickly called our veterinary clinic, Veterinary Medical Center in Woodland Hills. They always fit us into their busy schedule, and this time, even at the very end of the day it was no different. Dr Gary Latos took an x-ray of her leg and talon. There it was... a tibiotarsal fracture. Dr Stan Kunin,who owns Veterinary Medical Center, has donated thousands of dollars in medical treatment and supplies toward the care of our critters over the years but when I asked them if they could fix the leg they said this type of surgery would require a raptor specialist. Fortunately, they knew of another veterinarian in nearby Calabasas who was able to see poor injured Queen. I rushed her to the clinic and Dr Molnar examined the leg. He could do the surgery but when he showed me the estimate my heart sank. It was $2,100, I knew we couldn't afford it but I also knew that euthanasia wasn't even a consideration. She was my trained, flying friend and I needed to try and save her life.
Queen was in the hawk hospital for 2 days. It is suspected that she has a weak heart because she was hard to stabilize under anesthesia and was almost lost during the extensive surgery. She's finally home now and has a metal pin in her leg with sort of a handle on it to stabilize it. I'm hand feeding her quail and mice and treating her with pain medication and antibiotics. In addition, I'm giving her talon physical therapy by stretching it out several times a day. Her leg, which is turning green--they say that's normal--looks like a piece of Kentucky fried chicken. But she's making soft vocalizations which is a sign of contentment.
Queen will have to stay in a crate for 4 weeks. If she flies out and injures her leg again, there are no second chances. People were worried about her being able to tolerate the confinement of a small airline kennel for that length of time but Queen, being a traveling ambassador, is used to spending time sitting calmly in a kennel. Being a working bird has really helped her in this situation. Plus, being a social bird, she thrives on company and the chance to always be with me, so she is very agreeable and calmly adjusting to her injury.
We have faith that Queen will fly again and continue to share her beauty and free-flight behavior in our wildlife programs for many years to come. Donations toward her surgery and care can be made in her name by clicking the button below, or by mailing a check to The Nature of Wildworks P.O. Box 109, Topanga, CA 90290.
Thank you for supporting this special animal.
Update: The Nature of Wildworks thanks all our supporters and the donors who contributed to the care of Queen the Harris Hawk. We appreciate your support and well-wishes for her speedy recovery. Queen appears to have made a full recovery and has joined our other wildlife ambassadors in our outreach educational presentations.