Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hawk gets flight training by the Wisconsin Humane Society

I shouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was. I’ve had only occasional, and mostly sad, contacts with the Wisconsin Humane Society. It is, unfortunately, the place of last resort, where we take our sick and dying pets to be “put out of their misery”—a truism that rings hollow despite its truth.

The Society also brings the joy of a new pet into many people’s lives, of course.

But I hadn’t considered that they would be involved with wild animals, too. Me, the urban wilderness guy! Of all people I should have known that.

Well, I do now. I was riding my bike home from work through Doyne Park last week when I came upon a tableau I couldn’t resist: three gloved young women in the field with a very large red tailed hawk. I watched as the one who was grasping the hawk by both legs threw her arms up and launched the bird over her head. The hawk, whose name I later learned is Maria, immediately flew straight sideways and downwards trying—but failing—to make it into the nearest tree. Maria was tethered to Crystal, the team leader, with a slender length of hemp twine.

It is a rehabilitation technique called creance that helps birds recovering from injuries to fly once again. Maria had been admitted to the Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center a couple months ago with a fractured radius, or wing bone. Her bone had healed but she wasn’t yet ready to be released back into the wild. I learned from Crystal that it takes weeks to recover from the injury, more time in a large flight cage inside the Center, and then this outdoor creance conditioning. The creance training is especially important for a predator like Maria that needs considerable strength and stamina to survive in the wild.

I learned from their website that the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center receives and cares for over 5,000 wild animals annually. What an excellent program! —another tribute to Milwaukee’s urban wilderness. (The urban wilderness at this time of year is especially hard on birds, though. The annual migration through the city results in many window collisions. The Society website also has tips on how you can help reduce tragic window collisions. Click here.)

If you were unaware of this program, or have been too busy to check it out, I invite you to visit their website and learn more. You can see Maria and portraits of many other animals currently being cared for. You may, like me, even be moved to consider sponsoring one of the lovely creatures.

I watched the team launch Maria several times. Maria never got very far and the trees, not the open sky, were clearly her goal. She grimaced fiercely and pecked at the gloved hands as she was bundled back into the transportation cage. She’ll need more time. I hope I get to see her try again!

And I will no longer think of the Humane Society as that sad place.... Crystal and her team, along with Maria, have given me a welcome new perspective.

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