I called him Beau because he was beautiful. When I first saw him, he was little more than a football-sized shape that became more defined as I got closer. A hawk’s beak, a wing half-extended. I stopped the car and walked back to him. He watched me but didn’t budge. I spoke calmly to him. His head swiveled to keep me in sight. He looked confused, as if this was not where he meant to be. Across the road was a utility pole, a perfect perch for a hungry raptor.
Cars sped by on a sunny Sunday afternoon, in the open stretch of Scenic Byway from Callicoon to Narrowsburg. I was returning from the farmers’ market with my fresh-caught trout and a bunch of corn for dinner when I stopped for this stranded traveler.
You can’t imagine what you’ll do in a situation you have never encountered until you do. If you have any training, it kicks in when needed. For years I watched Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center (DVRC) demonstrate handling a variety of birds of prey at the Eagle Fest and other venues. I remembered the stories he told of travelers encountering wounded birds on roadsides on rainy nights. I could never imagine being that one person who stopped. Then there was Beau.
Only a novice naturalist would name a wild bird. I needed a pro. My first thought was to call Bill. I thought he would appear, like Superman, as I stood vigil with Beau. A series of phone calls, to my husband, to the Department of Environmental Conservation ensued. Even our local rescuer, Kathy Michell (who was busy wrangling an alligator) yielded only the recommendation to put the hawk in a cardboard box and bring him to the DVRC in Milford.
I remembered Streeter’s advice to cover the bird’s eyes first, to disable it. I took a light cloth and the dog crate (that was fortunately empty on this trip) from the car. At that moment, a local resident was pulling out of her driveway. She seemed unfazed by the situation and agreed to cover the hawk with the crate as I covered him with the cloth. My “training” worked. Beau was cooperative too. He allowed me to zip the crate closed and carry him to my car.
I stopped at home to put the trout in the refrigerator and pick up my curious husband. Kathy Michell advised us not to try to feed the bird until he was evaluated. So the trout would be our dinner. But I was worried about dehydration and wanted to hand him off to a pro as soon as possible.
It’s a surreal experience driving with a raptor in your backseat. His large yellow eyes were intent on the road ahead. His beak was slightly open and his tongue extended slightly. He was silent.
The Delaware Valley Raptor Center is a series of low structures dotted throughout a property that is fronted by a two-story home. As we pulled in to the driveway, a man I recognized stepped outside in his bare feet. His face was stern. “Did you call first?” he asked. We answered that we had been calling everywhere for hours. “It’s my only day off,” said Streeter with an air of resentment he reserves only for humans. “What do you have?” “A hawk,” I mustered. “I think he’s hurt.”
Within moments, Streeter was in the back seat with Beau. “He’s a broadwing hawk,” he told us. His tone had softened, encountering this beauty. “Let’s have a look.” He took Beau back to an enclosure to evaluate his flying but the bird wouldn’t budge. An eyelid was closing oddly. He agreed to keep him under observation and asked if we’d like to keep informed about his progress. He would need to know where I found him if he was going to release him.
Then he apologized. Streeter is a compact man with an outsized knowledge of wildlife, especially raptors. His name may be mythological someday; perhaps he will be sainted. But for now, he’s a human being with only one day off and his number was supposed to be routed to his colleague, who was busy giving a tour of the satellite center in Matamoras, PA when I was calling. His dour composure was completely within human norms.
Less than a week later, he called to tell us that Beau was ready to be set free. He was flying now but he wasn’t “adapting well to captivity,” and had to be force-fed tiny pieces of mice by hand. That’s what separates the amateurs from the pros. It was too much information for this amateur.
We met at my house and drove to Skinner’s Falls campground, the nearest open field to where Beau was downed, probably swiped by a passing car as he swooped down to catch a mouse. I was happy to see Beau again and to be able to introduce him to our son, who came along for the release, camera in hand. At the campground, Bill showed us the details of the broadwing’s markings, and I noticed his slow-closing eyelid was now normal.
As Streeter prepared to release him I noticed the remarkable resemblance he had to a hawk himself. His leather-gloved hands held Beau’s talons down and in front of him, and he swooped him up and free in one balletic gesture. My son had been filming this moment but was swept away by wanting to see it with his own eyes and lowered his camera. Beau flew in a beautiful arc into a nearby tree, gathering his bearings for the long flight ahead—to Mexico, Bill told us.