By Doug Maves
The sky behind lit up with a band of dark red fire, underlined by shades of coral and orange over the gnarled hills beside Okanagan Lake. Even in a rear view mirror, the spectacular sunrise almost took my breath away. I sped west on the road to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation League’s (OWL) facilities near Ladner, BC, four hours away. I was already excited by my mission for today, the return to the wild of an injured red-tailed hawk. Rescued by my friend Karen after an infected talon made him unable to hunt, Hawkeye had been very close to death. Emaciated by starvation and shunned by many people who could have helped him, but chose not to, he had crawled back from where he had been cast away to the only home he had ever known. High above, his kin and friends had circled endessly, keening and shrieking, unable to help. Unknown to Hawkeye, his bad luck was about to change. He lived very close to a person who had already saved one animal from abuse, and would soon save him from an ugly end.
She had heard the commotion outside of her kitchen and gone to investigate. Bombarded by birds sensing their ancient enemy’s weakness, he struggled fearlessly against his fate. Then Karen came, and he rested quietly in her arms. weak and exhausted. Soon wrapped in a blanket then huddling in the corner of a box, protected from the elements and predators, Hawkeye waited alone in darkness while Karen called me, trusting that with my outdoor experience and respect for all wild things I could help. A slight woman,unable to carry him in the large crate up a long flight of stairs, with coyotes close by, she waited with him, all through the long night.
My early call to the Tri-Lakes Animal Hospital’s emergency line here in Lake Country was answered quickly. A brief conversation about the safe transport of the animal soon had me on my way to Karen’s place and back to Tri-Lakes with the bird. Dr. Linda Kaplan knew the infected talon had to be amputated, but Hawkeye would have to be strengthened first with a liquid protein diet and antibiotics. The staff kept us informed with every step of the bird’s recovery. As soon as the necessary surgery was completed I volunteered to drive the raptor to OWL’s acreage and visit friends in Ladner at the same time. Healing went slowly, but could not be rushed. Hunting with a missing talon had to be learned. Once powerful wing muscles had to be rebuilt with diet and exercise. Hawkeye made a new friend there, another bird rescued by OWL, good company for each as they received the care they needed to return to their wild homes. Month after month seemed to crawl by, but finally the welcome call came. He would fly freely again in the Okanagan skies, beating the odds stacked so badly against him. Ecstatic with the good news, Karen waited at her home as I cruised to the coast. Time flew by, as if to relieve me of the tedium of long distance driving.
Three coffees at the Ladner Legion and a quick pool match with friends was just the break I needed before the drive back. The bird rested comfortably but nervously in a small kennel securely fastened to the floor of the vehicle. The trip seemed even shorter as I murmurred encouragement to Hawkeye constantly. Soon he would be home, soon he would soar again. What fate held for him now, I did not know, and did not care. So many people had dedicated their time and skills to just give him this one chance at happiness again, without expectation of reward that all I could think of was his safe return to where it all began, for all of us. And so it came to be.
All of our friends had brought their cameras and as Karen released the door of the cage. Hawkeye flew out, low and slow, then rose to the top of an arbor and alit. Surveying his old stomping grounds serenely, he preened and stretched for his audience. They encouraged him loudly to fly away, but I restrained them with the information I had learned at OWL, that quiet time was needed to acclimatize to his old surroundings. It could be minutes, or hours. Hawkeye was on his own time again, in the environment he had been born for. No trace remained of the bedraggled, forlorn bird I had last seen. Only the band on one foot and a missing talon marked him and his trials and his victory. As I left them all to replenish my own body with much needed food I heard the cheers as Hawkeye leapt to the heavens above, strong wings beating fiercely, hunting for his own sustenance once again. Joyful emotions swept through me, and tears ran down my cheeks unchecked, past a huge smile. Our self-appointed jobs were done. Godspeed, Hawkeye.
Thank you Barb and Rod and the rest of the volunteers at OWL, thank you Dr. Kaplan and all the staff at Tri-Lakes Animal Hospital. But nothing could have happened without the caring and courage of Karen. Thank you. You are a friend to all in need. Your friends know you will always be there for those in distress as long as you live. Morgan’s Hero is now Hawkeye’s Hero too. There was no cost for anything we did to save another being. The rewards are immense, and everlasting. If readers find an animal in distress, or see one being abused, help is a short phone call away at any veterinarian or the SPCA. All you have to do is care. Do you believe in second chances?