Raul and I have something very special to share with you. We’ve had an amazing visitor stay with us at the ranch these past two months that no one, least of all us, would have ever expected to drop by. The events behind this visitors arrival has given Raul and I a lot to think about regarding “coincidences” and in this case it was about being in the right place at the right time, which might not be as random as we think. Maybe its not all up to luck. Maybe things really do happen for a reason.
It all comes down to the decisions we make, and the chances we take that lead us into new areas of learning and growth. It’s experiences like the one I’m about to tell you that enrich our lives in so many ways and it makes us appreciate life and all it’s wonderful ocurrences more than ever before.
A Fall From the Sky
It was late afternoon. Raul was out riding with a group on a beautiful day in May when he decided to take them through the canyon towards “The Twisted Ankle Trail” so they could ride underneath the shady oak trees, then up and out onto the mesas above the ranch.
Just after the first gate, he stopped to tighten cinches before the climb when he pointed out a Red-Tail Hawk’s nest about 25 ft above them and the two fledglings, that were inside the nest. The mother watched vigilantly on a branch nearby. So as not to anger her, Raul and the group slowly moved away.
Suddenly, the mother hawk flew into the air. Raul and the group gasped at what they saw next. One of the fledglings was hanging upside down by feet of the mother! They watched as the mother circled around, heading back to the nest but when she was within inches of landing, the fledgling fell. If you can visiualize a leaf falling from a tree this is what the little fledgling looked like. It was as if in slow motion, the baby floated and bumped from branch to branch all the way to the ground and finally landed in the oak leaves at the bottom of the tree.
The dogs were on it within seconds. Fortunately,Raul called them off so he could assess the situation. When he arrived at the scene, the fledgling was buried head first in the leaves, but it appeared to be fine. He knew once a fledgling hawk falls from the nest, the mother won’t come to retrieve it. Those were the laws of nature.
Raul later told me, when he held the tiny creature in his hand, which actually only fit into both hands cupped together, he couldn’t believe he was holding a Red-Tail Hawk. The baby was big, but at the same time he sensed how small and defenseless it was too. He knew there was no way he could leave it for the coyotes, or subject it to the elements and the chances the mother would pick it up again were none.
The laws of nature say, only the strong survive. He knew this and as he stood there holding the hawk, a million thoughts raced through his mind. What was the right thing to do? And Raul, who’s seen first hand the sometimes harsh laws of nature in action, also knew, the event that just took place, this strange coincidence of being in the right place at the right time was highly unusual. What were the chances?
He looked down at the little hawk who sat comfortably in his hands. It’s eyes were closed as if asleep. When Raul put his finger underneath one of its feet, the little hawk responded and grabbed on tight..
When the hawk gripped his finger Raul knew it was strong and healthy. The little fledgling deserved a chance to live and a chance at life was definitly worth a try. Raul set the fledgling carefully inside his saddle bag where it rested for the remainder of the ride. This gave Raul plenty of time before he returned to the ranch to contemplate how he would begin to feed and raise a Red-Tail Hawk.
The New Arrival
During the course of those afternoon events, I had gone into the town for supplies. When I returned, and as I walked from the car to the kitchen, I heard some members of the group commenting on “the baby hawk”, and “did you see it when it ate?”, or ” isn’t it beautiful?” I wondered, what hawk and what was all the commotion about?
When I reached the patio, I saw the entire group huddled around Raul. Everyone seemed excited not to mention Raul who had an enormous grin on his face. I moved closer to the group and when I peered into the circle I saw him feeding raw chicken to a big, baby bird. I also noticed he had built a nest inside of a box. Apparently, we were now fostering a baby Hawk. I couldn’t believe it.
On Sunday afternoon, after the group left, Raul and I sat down to discuss the next phase of fostering the hawk.
We both agreed, the idea was to raise it and release it back into the wild. That was first and foremost. Raul said he knew two Biologists, Marco and Ernesto who specialized in hawks whom he’d call on Monday to come out to the ranch to check the hawk’s health conditions, weigh it and begin to measure it’s growth rate.
We sat on the front porch of our cabin with the fledgling between us. Raul made an open air box for it to stay in during the night which we brought inside the cabin with us. We knew not to touch it, no more than necessary, so it wouldn’t imprint on either one of us, but we couldn’t help but marvel at the little guy as we peered into the box to get a closer look. Never had I, or Raul had contact with such a magnificent bird of prey. It was like exploring a whole new world we’d never known before!
I can’t begin to tell you how many times we’ve laughed at the antics of this little character. When the fledgling went to sleep, it stretched out its legs, like a baby lying in bed with its head turned to one side to sleep. Imagine, a bird doing that! And every morning, around 5am, the second it sensed movement in the cabin, it started to chirp, peep, or whatever it is that baby hawks do. 🙂
Raul tried to wait as long as he could before getting out of bed, but duty called, and baby hawk was hungry. In the beginning Raul fed it raw chicken, but later, Marcos and Ernesto suggested fresh quail which is ideal for a fledgling because the meat, feathers, bones and everything is high in protein and exactly what a growing, young hawk needs.
Marcos and Ernesto also informed us that the hawk was indeed a male so we decided to name him Pollito which means, Little Chicken.
While the biologists were at the ranch, the three of them discussed the possibility of returning the fledgling to the nest. Raul took Marcos and Ernesto to the nest site but it was soon unanimous, because it of it’s height, and it was an old oak tree with a dried out trunk that returning the fledgling to the nest was too risky for them to try.
And So It Begins…….
Raul’s plan was to simulate a natural environment for the hawk to live in during the time it was to stay with us until it learned to fly and hunt on it’s own. This was the reason Raul built yet another house, a perch/house which sits in the center of the main garden and is 15 ft off the ground. In a sense, he constructed a make shift tree so the hawk would be up high near the trees and it would see other birds flying in the sky.
During the growth of a young hawk there are different stages of development and behaviours the hawk is expected to meet within each week of it’s developing life. I did some investigating on my own and I discovered at week 4 they begin to stand up on their feet, rather than on their feet and knees, and begin feeding independently of parental guidance. During this stage the fledgling also moves into the wing flapping and hopping in the nest as it exercises its wings in preparation for flight.
We tried to encourage the onset of its kill instincts by offering it dead quail or mice just as it’s done in the wild by the mother. In the beginning we chopped up it’s food and fed it in small pieces which the fledgling rapidly gobbled up!
Later, we introduced a complete quail, or mouse, not cut up as much, but opened up so the hawk smelled the warm meat and blood. I know this sounds grisly, but this is exactly what the mother does in nature and the idea was to remain consistent in simulating it’s natural environment as much as possible. As the weeks progressed we watched and waited for the various stages to occur and when the hawk passed each stage successfully and right on time, Raul and I applauded like proud parents!
Each day was a new discovery not only for us but for the hawk as well. We were amazed how his senses caught all sorts of movement and how quicly he zeroed in on anything that moved with the intense gaze of a predator. You can imagine all the tweety birds in the garden, the butterflies, gophers and squirrels that kept him very busy for most of the day.
Feather and Wings
At week 4 we finally came to the stage of nest hopping and wing flapping. Everything was rolling along smoothly and he continued to grow. I was downright amazed at the changes I saw in him every week when I returned to the ranch. His feathers grew in at an alarming rate. No longer was he a ball of white, feathery, fluff. He really looked like a hawk! His body became covered with beautiful hues of tan, brown and white feathers and he was so big!
A few weeks ago it was really hot, and although his perch had shade it was obvious he had enough sunshine for a while. It was time to get out of the sun and find another spot. We knew he would eventually try to fly which is why we put him in the main garden. It’s a huge fenced area which allows for plenty of room to safely learn to fly. If he should land on the ground, or if we weren’t there to watch him the fencing would protect him from a curious dog or two and it also protected him from getting stuck in a tree which has already happened. Just the other day he got stuck in the grape vines near the pool. Fortunately, Raul was there to get him out. Regarding my reference to the dogs, Raul’s also taught them not to bother the hawk. They know he’s off limits but still we can’t be too careful.
With wing flapping week underway, and as advised by our biologists, Pollito was due to fly very soon. We watched while he ventured to the very edge of his perch,look up, down and all around, then flap his wings with a furry and return to the security of the nest. After about an hour of this, Raul and I could barely contain our excitement as we eagerly waitied in anticipation of his first attempt to fly! It was like waiting for your child’s first steps!
Finally the big moment arrived. Suddenly,.without warning he flapped as hard as he could, and leaped into the air. He remained airborn for about 4 ft but then crashed into the grape vines, landing on his back, his wings sprawled out to the sides, with both feet sticking straight up in the air. A bit stunned but otherwise alright, Raul helped to turn him right side up. He shook himself off and flapped his wings some more. I started laughing when I noticed the top of his head was disheveled with bits of grass stuck in his feathers. Poor baby it was a hard landing!
Worries………… and some very good news.
As his feathers grew in we begin to notice a difference in his wings. The right wing hung lower than the left one although it didn’t seem to bother him, and he wasn’t in any pain. The area in question was more at the elbow, rather than the entire shoulder where it bends on the outer edge of the wing.
It wasn’t until after his feathers grew in that we noticed this and we wondered if it would inhibit his ability to fly. Our son Ricardo, who is a large animal vetrenarian made some phone calls and contacted a Wild Animal Vet who is due to come out to see Pollito within these next few weeks.
Raul and I have gone over every moment of his stay with us including the day he fell. Raul says he remembers how Pollito hit various branches on the way down. It’s very possible he hurt the wing during the fall. I remember very well those first few weeks Pollito stayed with us. He seemed to use both wings like little arms to support his weight, or move from side to side while sitting in his make shift nest. It wasn’t until his feathers grew in that we immediately noticed the hurt wing, although now completely healed, it’s obvious it didn’t properly fuse together.
One of our guests, and friend reminded us that sometimes, even when animals have disabilities they learn to compensate and carry on. It looks like this is exactly what Pollito has done because as I write this post he’s already flying!
I can’t tell you how happy Raul and I are to see him in the air. He’s progressed beautifully! Pollito has also learned to kill his food. We provide live quail for him now, but he kills it and eats it just like a big hawk does, and lately we’ve noticed him watching those cute little tweety birds with more more enthusiam than before!
The nest that Raul made, which sits in the center of the garden is still there but it’s no longer in use. We left it there completely open for him to come and go as he pleases but we’ve noticed he prefers to sleep in the oak trees and that’s fine with us.
In the mornings, you’ll see him sitting on the roof above the kitchen. When Pollito sees Raul enter the big garden with a live quail he waits until Raul leaves then swoops down to the railing above the gate and sits there biding his time while eye balling the quail until he’s ready to pounce. I never thought I’d enjoy seeing another animal killed but I remind myself, this is how its done in the wild. Hawks hunt and kill their prey. This is how they eat. It’s how they survive.
So when I see him land on the quail and dig his talons into it, rather than feel bad for the poor little quail, I’m glad nature is taking it’s course and Pollito is developing into a healthy adult just as he should.
He’s still very young, so Raul will provide a live quail for breakfast for a while longer, but lunch and dinner is now up to him. Since he started flying we’ve noticed he likes to sit on the far hillside next to the barn where there’s lots of squirrels at play. It’s our greatest hope he learns to hunt one of them for his evening meal. 🙂
Pollito is in no way restricted from flying anywhere he pleases. Right now he’s flying everywhere and gradually he’ll venture farther away and that’s exactly what we want. The farther he goes the better. That means he’s learning to live on his own. Both Raul and I agree if he wants to come back from time to time that would be great but our main objective is for Pollito to fly free.
There is so much to tell you about Pollito, I couldn’t possibly include it all in this one post. He loves to sit in cold water and give himself a big, bird bath. He likes the shade and often sits in the middle of the table or on a chair on the patio next to the pool. In the mornings while it’s still cool, he seems to enjoy lying on the roof tops of the cabins where it’s nice and shady. He’s also very comical. I laugh every time he turns his head upside down when he’s extra curious about something. Pollito has personality and I’ll readily admit, until I grew to know him, I really didn’t think birds could be so communicative, but they are.
Our experience with Pollito has been phenomenal and such a huge privilege for Raul and I. A new world has opened up for us while all along neither Raul or I ever imagined we’d have such close contact with a majestic bird of prey. Coincidences are they? Or do things really happen for a reason?
Pollito is such a delight. The entire process of his growth has been an amazing adventure and Raul and I truly see him as a special, feathery gift who has brought us so much joy while at the same time, he’s added an extra dose of beautiful peace with his presence at the ranch and for this we are extremely grateful.
The Wild Animal Vet is due to visit the ranch soon even though we think Pollito is fine. He’s flying all over the place and since their first visit, Biologists, Marcos and Ernesto have been back to the ranch and they say Pollito is looking great.
Raul also checks on Pollito’s mother and the nest on a regular basis. It turns out Pollito has a brother who is doing fine too! The other fledgling is already flying so it looks like both of them are right on schedule.
We know Pollito is still very young and we hope for the best in his growing process. We also know many things can happen along the way but Raul and I will do our very best to assure he becomes a healthy self-sustaining adult hawk.
Thank you for reading our story and allowing us to share with you the details of our wonderful experience!
See you at the ranch,
Raul and Caroline