Arboretum – Hawk Rescue

Somehow it was June the last time I walked through the UW Arboretum, and I knew I couldn’t let a beautiful fall day like this – mid-60s, sunshine and a light breeze to keep the mosquitoes away – pass me by.

My goal was to look for the changing colors in the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens on October 14, but the birds got the best of me and I quickly spotted the familiar turkeys again.


Then something big and white caught my attention near another tree. I got closer and discovered it was a red-tailed hawk, but it didn’t seem bothered by my presence.


I was within 25 feet of it when I took this photo. Hawks, in my experience, generally fly off quickly, and this one was in no hurry. That’s when I knew something wasn’t quite right.

A couple of years ago I encountered a similar situation in my hometown, and that hawk ended up having internal parasites. You can read about that experience (which has a happy ending) by clicking here or on the newspaper photo. Fitting that I also took photos of turkeys the same day for the paper, too. What can I say … I like birds.

Back to this story, though. I called the arboretum and a few staff members met me at the spot. At that point we speculated on what kind of injury, if any, it might have. Then about 45 minutes later, the hawk suddenly took off and flew right by me, staying very low to the ground.


And when it landed about 50 yards away, it seemed to hobble a little bit. Then it hopped up in a low branch of this tree, sometimes keeping its right leg (which I noticed earlier was banded) tucked in. Click here to watch a short video clip.

2016-10-14-arboretum-redtailedhawk4Within an hour, help arrived.


That’s John Kraak, from the Dane County Humane Society’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center, and Elizabeth Buschert, who had been hawk-sitting with me while we waited. Even though her role at the arboretum is technically in stormwater monitoring, she said, “If you work here, all sorts of things happen.” Props to the busy staff for making this situation a priority.

I don’t even have any photos of John capturing the hawk in the net, because that’s how fast it happened – quick and painless. He walked up to the tree and seconds later he was taking the hawk out of the net, inspecting its body for any obvious injuries. He’s clearly a pro.


I’m not sure why the hawk’s mouth was open in this shot, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably in awe of John’s sweet beard.


I will hopefully have an update soon on the hawk’s condition once I hear back from Four Lakes Wildlife Center. Cross your fingers that it will recover and be released back where we found it.

UPDATE: I called Four Lakes Wildlife Center on Oct. 15 and they said x-rays didn’t reveal any injuries. The hawk is being treated for internal parasites and getting some extra fluids because it was slightly dehydrated. It’s already in their outdoor cage and has been flying well, so now they will wait until it can catch live prey and hopefully release it back at the arboretum next week. Yay! 

I continued to walk around the gardens and saw a Northern flicker, female downy woodpecker and what appears to be a female yellow-rumped warbler.

2016-10-14-arboretum-northernflicker 2016-10-14-arboretum-downywoodpecker 2016-10-14-arboretum-femaleyellow-rumpedwarbler2Then I took a leisurely hike through Gallistel Woods.

2016-10-14-arboretum-woodsAnd this cute black-capped chickadee greeted me on my way out. Hopefully I’ll be back before the leaves all fall.



Almost a week later on October 20, Four Lakes Wildlife Center came back to the UW Arboretum to release the hawk. This was Kayla Wilson’s first release.


A small crowd gathered to see the bird, which was determined to be a 10 1/2-year-old female. She had been treated for dehydration, starvation and parasites, but she made a quick recovery and was ready to be released.

2016-10-20-hawkrelease22016-10-20-hawkrelease3 2016-10-20-hawkrelease4

The release was successful, and it didn’t take long for her to perch high in an evergreen and start soaring above the visitor center again.

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