By Scott Prater
Erik Landrum, 50th Space Wing visual information illustrator, was riding his bike around the base perimeter Sept. 3 when he came upon a strange sight — a large bird of prey, with a bad attitude, stumbling in all directions.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” he said. “The bird was extremely agitated and I could tell it was trying to fly away, but something wasn’t right. As I approached, it grew even more angry. It hissed and flapped its wings, but obviously wasn’t doing what it wanted to do. It was big too. When it stretched its wings out, they spanned the width of the trail.”
Landrum guessed that the bird was injured, but he wasn’t sure what steps he should take next. After carefully backing away, he called his coworkers in an effort to find a contact number for the appropriate responders.
Meanwhile, a vehicle approached. It was the 50th Mission Support Group Commander, Col. Brian Barthel, who was conducting a perimeter check following recent heavy rains in the area. Barthel contacted the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight and asked them to come out to the scene.
Andy Jensen, 50 CES natural resource manager, arrived on scene shortly after and quickly surveyed the situation. He identified the bird as a large Ferruginous Hawk, still in a futile attempt to take flight and immediately began rescue efforts.
“As soon as we approached the hawk, it reared back and showed its talons, its main defense mechanism,” he said. “Capturing it was quite an ordeal. Hawks are aggressive predators. Their talons and beaks are sharp. We had to take great care to make sure we didn’t injure ourselves.”
Scared and confused, the hawk vigorously resisted capture, but Jensen and Pamela Rosinski, 50 CES contractor managed to corner the bird at the fence line near the base’s southwest corner. Using a large net with a telescoping pole, Jensen captured the bird.
Perhaps the most difficult step came when he and Rosinski began placing the bird in a large dog kennel for transport.
“It didn’t want to go in,” Jensen said. “I was wearing protective gloves with steel safety tips, otherwise I wouldn’t even have tried. “We’ve captured injured owls before, but they are mostly docile. This thing, on the other hand, was extremely aggressive. It was difficult to control and it kept grabbing a hold of the pole we were using to put it into the kennel. After a long struggle, we finally managed to get it in the kennel.”
The hawk was no less angry during the 20-minute ride to the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. It squawked and banged against the sides of the kennel during the entire trip.
Once he arrived at EWRC, Jensen made the final transfer. He was relieved to be done with the ordeal.
Except it was far from finished.
Staff members at the EWRC examined the hawk soon after, but had trouble making a diagnosis. The hawk ate, moved and otherwise exhibited normal behavior. It even managed to bite through one of the staffer’s protective gloves. After a day at the center, staff members guessed the bird had been stunned after flying into the fence. They called Jensen and told him it was ready to be picked up and released.
Jensen picked up the hawk, now identified as a female, on Sept. 5, but when he opened the kennel back up at Schriever, she refused to leave.
“We coaxed her out, but she failed in every attempt to fly again,” Jensen. “We knew she wasn’t going to survive in the condition she was in, so were forced to recapture her.”
This time the hawk ran to the point of exhaustion
Jensen and Rosinski followed in their truck, circled the bird, and once again, threw a net around it.
“The second capture was much easier,” Jensen said. “She really didn’t want to be back out there.”
They transported her back to EWRC, where staffers re-examined and determined the hawk had a dislocated and bruised wing.
On Monday, EWRC owner Donna Ralph said the hawk was recovering nicely.
She is flying in 20-foot aviary now and will soon be moved to a 50-foot aviary to continue physical therapy.
Ralph could not say when the hawk will be ready to be introduced to Schriever again, but Jensen said the incident presented several lessons for Schriever members. First, do not attempt to make contact with a wild bird or animal. Second, when encountering wildlife that seems to be injured or behaving abnormally on base, back away from the area and contact the 50 CES Environmental Flight.
“We’ve also recently heard reports from people who have encountered rattle snakes on base trails,” he said. “The best advice we have for people in this circumstance is the same, back away and leave the area. We don’t see too many snakes, but like much of wildlife, this is their home. They don’t like humans, so as long as you don’t approach them, you’ll avoid risking injury. The best tactic for alleviating the situation is to leave the animal alone.”
Once the hawk has recovered, Jensen plans to release her near the point she was captured on the southwest side of the base.
For information on wildlife at Schriever or to report an injured animal, contact Jensen at 567-3360.