Background Switcher (Hidden)

Harrier Heaven

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In my last post, I told about some of the excellent work being done for New Mexican wildlife by The Wildlife Center, in Espanola. I met its founder, a dynamic veterinarian everyone knows as Doc, who told me about the bears, bobcats and mountain lions she houses at her farm. Listening to her, I had to keep closing my mouth, thinking about the level of commitment and knowledge it takes to care for animals like that.

Paul Tebbel told me a story about some young raptors that were brought in this past summer. Someone called and said they had a box full of four baby great horned owls that had fallen from their nest in a tree. When the small, fluffy white chicks arrived, it was immediately clear that they were not owls at all, but hawks. Young downy hawks all look very similar, and the best guess, given that they had apparently fallen from a tree nest, was that they were the common Cooper's hawk.
The chicks were old enough to serve themselves, which was a good thing, since the adult Cooper's hawk that usually fosters young Coops at the Wildlife Center refused to feed them. So the Wildlife Center staff provided food and let them grow. It wasn't too long before they were feathering out. Barb Tebbel looked hard at them. "Paul," she called one day. "Will you come look at these purported 'Cooper's hawks?'" Paul stared. "Those aren't Coops," he said. "Those are northern harriers!" A young male harrier chases an immature female. Are they two from The Wildlife Center?

Their hearts sank in unison, as they realized that these babies had never been in a tree nest. Rather, they'd been taken by well-meaning people from an active harrier nest--on the ground, where harrier nests are supposed to be. Too late to fix that.
Would they be releasable? Live mice let loose in their enclosure were rapidly dropped upon and dispatched. There was hope. They spar and tangle, flipping over on their sides and backs in flight.

When the time came, the birds were transported to Bosque del Apache NWR, and released in perfect harrier habitat. I'd like to think that some of the many immature harriers we saw on our visit were from that rare batch of great horned owls, no, Cooper's hawks, no, northern harriers! fostered at TWC. Long may they fly, and long may The Wildlife Center do its good work.
Cinnamon underparts distinguish immature northern harriers.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful that there are places like The Wildlife Center, where Barb and Paul will be barbequeing a free-range turkey for the staff who will be working there today, as they do 365 days a year, holiday or not. I wish we had a Wildlife Center in southeast Ohio.
We're flying home today, lugging our mountains of gear through nearly-empty airports. I cooked a turkey the week before we left, and we got at least six meals out of it: the gravy dinner, then two pot pies and a batch of turkey vegetable soup. Didn't want to pine for turkey while gnoshing on Corn Nuts and horrible airport sandwiches. But I'm sure we will. Chet Baker will be wiggling and waiting for us at home, thanks to Bill's folks, who picked him up at puppy prison yesterday. That's something to be thankful for, too. Have a wonderful holiday. Now get off the computer and help set that table, you geeks!


[Back to Top]