Residents help shot hawk rise again

Lynn Eves, of the Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation, holds a hawk that was recently released, after being shot by a pellet gun near Sarnia’s Wiltshire subdivision. Submitted photo

Cathy Dobson

The tale of an unfortunate hawk shot by a pellet gun near Sarnia’s Wiltshire subdivision has a happy ending, thanks to the neighbourhood’s assistance and dedication of a skilled volunteer.

French teacher Helene Garant had just returned home from Cathcart Boulevard School when she noticed the bird attempting to fly from her yard on Edgewood Street.

It was January and Garant feeds blue jays and cardinals through the winter, which had attracted a large number of feathered friends to her property.

Many city residents are good enough to feed small birds, says Lynn Eves, founding director of the Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation on Egremont Road.

The trouble is, as smaller birds are forced out of rural Lambton by deforestation they take up residence in the city, and that attracts larger birds of prey, said Eves.

The Cooper’s hawk Garant found in her backyard had been shot when it came looking for food in the city, she said.

When Garant saw the wounded bird, she remembered a presentation at her school about the raptor rehab centre.

“I knew what they do because of that presentation and I called them,” she said.

Volunteer vet technician Erica Di Muzio answered the call.

“I got there and saw the hawk’s tracks in the snow,” said Di Muzio. “I could see it was trying to fly, hopping really fast from yard to yard. I tracked it until it got too dark.”

Di Muzio gave up for the night but not before speaking to Josina Washington, another Edgewood Street neighbour who lives at the home where the tracks seemed to end.

The next day, Washington discovered the bird perched on a chair in her backyard.

“It was incredible. I called Erica and she came and literally walked right up to it and grabbed it,” said Washington.

“We were just amazed at how she caught the hawk. It was just a beautiful bird but I wouldn’t have wanted to try.”

Di Muzio took the hawk home, cleaned and bandaged the broken wing and began administering painkillers and antibiotics. An X-ray showed the wing fractured in two places by a pellet. It was decided surgery was risky and the pellet was left in.

“I kept her at home – also called the ICU – for two weeks until she was strong enough for the rehab centre,” said Di Muzio.

“She’d had a lot of blood loss but she was a really lucky bird. Other than the wing, she was in great shape and she recovered.”

At the rehab centre she could exercise in a cage while resting and eating well. Three months later, on April 21, she was released in rural Lambton by Eves.

“It is overwhelmingly gratifying to be part of the recovery,” said Di Muzio, who has volunteered at the raptor rehab centre for seven years.

“You always want to see them released.”

Eves said hawks are increasingly building nests in the city.

“This Cooper’s hawk was probably an easy target because they sit waiting quietly for songbirds.”

People try to protect songbirds by using a pellet gun on birds of prey instead of accepting that nature needs to take its course, she said.

“We just have to learn to live with the fact we create the problem to begin with, because we’re cutting down the forests and destroying habitat. We need to learn to be more in tune with nature and to get educated.”

It’s possible the released Cooper’s hawk will head back to Wiltshire, Eves added.

“She’ll go looking for her mate. They mate for life if they can.”

If you come across an injured raptor, call Eves at 519-899-2443. To see a video of the Cooper’s hawk’s release, visit Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehab on Facebook.