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On Common Ground: ‘He was one of the lucky ones’

Pictured is a former CWC patient which was released in Malibu after being treated for a pellet gun injury. Photo Submitted
Dr. Duane Tom, DVM Director of Animal Care, California Wildlife Center
11:28 am PST January 24, 2017

Red-tailed hawks are the hawks you most commonly see in the Malibu area, soaring high in the sky during the mornings as the air warms up. Their call is also the one almost always used by the entertainment industry as the loud, screeching call in background effects.

On Aug. 22, 2016, the California Wildlife Center was called about a red-tailed hawk that was lying on the ground, injured.  Since it was nearby, our rescue team was dispatched to pick up the bird and rush it to our wildlife hospital for help.  When we examined the bird, we found it was very weak, with blood coming from its mouth, and was unable to stand, probably from the stress of its injury.  

Over the next couple days we stabilized the hawk with fluids and nutrition until it was stable enough for anesthesia, X-rays and potential surgery. What we found is something that we unfortunately see quite often in our area.  

The bird had been shot with a pellet gun. The pellet had damaged the humerus of its right wing, breaking off small pieces of the bone. When a bird is pellet shot, it also drags a lot of debris into the animal (feathers, skin, bacteria). Pellets and BBs can cause very bad breaks to bones and internal organs. With birds in particular, bad injuries to their wings often cannot be repaired, and because they cannot fly, it results in euthanasia.

 For this bird, we were able to do surgery to remove the pellet and what had tracked in with it in order for the bone and muscle to heal properly. It also received antibiotics and pain medications.

After a week of medications, the bird went to our aviary. A few days later, it was starting to fly and eating much better. Once our hawks are flying well in the aviary and are at a time where their injuries should be healed, we begin to “creance” them in order to make sure they are flying well and to also provide more strenuous exercise. 

Diana Mullen, a longtime CWC volunteer and Malibu resident, assists us with creancing, which involves flying them for longer distances on something similar to a leash. 

She had this to say about the patient she spent a great deal of time caring for: “It took some extra time and care to get him flying properly again, especially as he got winded so quickly each time he was brought out. He finally got to soaring, controlling his left and right banking and beautiful pinpoint landings. I had the privilege of being the one to actually release him back into the Malibu skies he came from and when I did, instead of finding the nearest tree to perch on and looking around, like they usually do, he took off and soared straight up into the sky! He was one of the lucky ones. We see far too
many birds and other animals destroyed by pellet guns.”

While this bird was fortunate to be released, many of our pellet shot birds have injuries too severe and either die from the injuries or have to be put to sleep because they cannot fly well enough to survive in the wild. The worst thing about this is that it is something that can easily be avoided by not buying these weapons.   

A number of parents still buy pellet and BB guns or slingshots for their children. Unfortunately, there is a high probability that someday these will be used for cruel, illegal purposes. There are many other great gifts that can be given or spending time enjoying the outdoors and admiring the wildlife around us. 

On Common Ground is a new monthly column written by various California Wildlife Center employees. CWC, a nonprofit located in Calabasas, cares for injured wildlife in Malibu and beyond.