Raptor bounces back after foul-up

HAWK-EYED: Cooper, a Cooper’s Hawk rescued by Carol Freedman in Cedervale Ravine has found refuge at a bird rehabilitation centre in Halton Hills.

Cooper’s Hawk saved by Forest Hill photographer

Forest Hill villager Carol Freedman’s day went to the birds in early July.

While hiking through Cedervale Ravine, the avid shutterbug came across a young fledgling Cooper’s Hawk that made like Icarus and fell to the earth in front of her.

Initially dazed, the bird she named Cooper walked around flapping his wings in a desperate attempt to make it back to his aerie.

“My heart was hurting,” Freedman said. “I wanted so much to pick him up and put him back in the nest.”

Not knowing what to do, she left Cooper, returning the next day to see if he’d made it home. What she saw instead was the unusual scene of an ill-tempered squirrel threatening the raptor.

“I made my way through the brush and I got up to the little guy — and (Cooper) looked at me — he almost seemed to go, ‘Help me’,” Freedman said.

It’s not every day someone saves a hawk from a squirrel, but Freedman did just that.

Freedman took Cooper to Hawkeye Pest and Bird Control in Halton Hills, a rescue centre for injured birds.

When she met with executive director and facility owner Dan Frankian, the veteran falconer took the little one in.

And that was the last she saw of her avian friend. Hawkeye has been giving her the cold shoulder ever since, she said.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Freedman said. “But I’ve called them a couple of times, and they’ve really just brushed me off.”

Rest assured, Cooper is in good hands, Frankian says, adding rehabilitation centres have protocols that have to be followed when dealing with rescued raptors.

“You can’t have people running up and down taking pictures,” he said, adding some rehab centres show the public the door once they get the rescued bird of prey.

It may be fowl behaviour, but it’s to limit human contact, assuring the bird’s rehabilitation and successful reintroduction into the wild, Frankian said.

And a Cooper’s Hawk is no canary.

“In racecar terms, … a lot of people would say Cooper’s Hawks are Formula One,” Frankian said.

With the orphaned bird, there is only a small window of opportunity where it can learn basic skills for survival, he added, and when it comes to reintroducing the bird, the place of origin may not be ideal.

“Sometimes you can’t do it,” he said of releasing a bird into the wild. “(Say) there’s a horned owl just 40 feet away. Five minutes after it’s dark, the owl knows exactly where the Cooper’s Hawk is and now you’ve got a dead bird.

“Oops. So much for three month’s worth of work.”

Anyone who finds themselves in Freedman’s position should contact the Toronto Wildlife Centre, said Nathalie Karvonen, the Centre’s executive director.

People who come across grounded birds often don’t realize the immature hawk is just in its fledgling period, she said.

“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there,” Karvonen added. “For example, if you touch a baby bird, a lot of people think the parents will automatically reject it, which is absolutely untrue.”

Though she’s admittedly not a fan of winged predators, Cooper is still on Freedman’s mind.

“I really don’t like birds of prey because they eat rats … and they eat other birds,” she said. “But, I have a whole new respect for them and a whole new understanding.”

As for Cooper, he’s not singing his swan song. The fledgling is flying and may be released into the wild as early as September, Frankian said.

But that all depends on how hawkish Cooper really is.

– Photo courtesy Carol Freedman

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