By Doug Hughes
She has endured nearly ten months of intense rehab, but two weeks ago she was finally released. Known only as “Patient 16-5373,” she was lost and abandoned when Good Samaritans found her in a Milpitas landfill, where she lay immobile and severely burned—probably by a methane burner.
“She” is a red-tailed hawk, and though her tail feathers were burned so badly she couldn’t fly, this “tale” has a happy ending.
After being admitted to Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley on December 29, 2016, the hawk has been nurtured back to health, and on Tuesday, Oct. 17, in front of the students at William Burnett Elementary School, was released to fly once again. The school was chosen because WCSV tries to place rehabbed critters back into the wild within three miles of where they were rescued.
How did this happen?
Landfills attract predatory birds that prey on rodents and other smaller animals, and red-tailed hawks hunt by scanning the ground from an elevated perching site (which is why you so often see them perching on lamp posts along the freeway). Unfortunately, the tops of methane-burning smokestacks are generally the highest and most desirable perching sites at landfills. When they flare unexpectedly, a bird perching on top can be severely injured or killed. Burning methane is also clear and odorless, so birds can get injured flying above the burner.
How do we know she’s a she?
We didn’t know at first, but now that she is older and reached her adult weight of 1242 grams, we know that she is a female because she is too big to be a male! Male red-tailed hawks in our area typically weigh in at around 900-1100 grams, while a healthy adult female in our region can weigh up to 1400 grams.
Why have we had her in care so long?
We had to wait for her to molt naturally, which, depending on where a bird is in their molt cycle, can take up to a year. Since she came in with juvenile plumage and has now grown in her adult feathers (including her namesake red tail feathers), we estimate that she was born in 2016, which would make her about one-and-a-half years old now. Even though she has her adult plumage in, she will not be sexually mature for another 1-2 years.