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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Animal Rescue III: Short-tailed Hawk

The Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) breeds in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. One of the park guards rescued a chick from some boys who had stolen it from a nest high in a large ceiba (Ceiba pentandra) tree. By the time the bird reached us, he had diarrhea and was not happy. We are often not so fortunate, but this one survived, and became a wild, adult bird in the forests within several weeks.

Once he was strong enough, we began giving him flight practice. At first, he anxiously eyed other birds and all nearby movement. He soon lost his fear of the other birds, however, and he even would give them an evil stare, as if they would someday be his. In these photos, he was tethered, learning to fly and deal with the wild environment.

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Short-tailed Hawk fledgling getting some sun at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary
Before he was set free, he was given several days of "supervised" freedom, during which he practiced flapping while held, flew short distances while tethered, and spent afternoons perched in a nearby tree. The bird absorbed the experiences of passerines that harrassed it, and gained body strength and mobility.
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Fledgling Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.
His flight feathers came quickly with good nutrition, and he became confident. While he enjoyed the attention of people, he demonstrated a marked preference for the wild immediately. He never became too domesticated.
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The Short-tailed Hawk chick looks suspiciously as a Tropical Mockingbird taunts him. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.
He enjoyed watching all around him, especially the nearby birds which were none too happy about his obvious presence. Nonetheless, with just a piercing glare, no bird dared to approach him.
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Short-tailed Hawk chick preening in the afternoon sun at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary
When he first arrived, he was weak and sick with diarrhea. Thanks to the care of our staff and veterinary treatment, he improved and grew. Once his first-year plumage began to come in, our volunteer Joe Taylor analyzed him and diagnosed him as a Short-tailed Hawk, dark color phase. Soon his feathers grew and we all agreed!
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The Short-tailed Hawk chick enjoys its limited freedom perched in a fig tree at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary
Shortly after these photos were taken, we released him to the wild. He never again permitted a human to touch him. He returned daily to Estacion Biologica, however, and begged our cooks for food, perching on a rail just outside the kitchen and crying. He was given raw chicken or beef daily in this manner for another three weeks, after which he began to return less frequently. We sighted him more distantly from Estacion Biologica as time passed. After about two months, he no longer returned. We often have seen a dark-phase Short-tailed Hawk in the forest since then, and we like to think it is "ours".

This majestic bird came from and returned to the forests of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, and can be seen by nature tourists. Although other hawks are more common, this bird is an example of the quality birdwatching that can be done in these forests. The FUNDECI/GAIA bird list for the area has 225 species, and our birding guides can help you find and identify them. Contact us if you would like to arrange a birdwatching or nature lovers tour in Nicaragua.

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