It was about 4:30 in the afternoon when I received a call from The Wildlife Center and was invited to pick up a baby bird at Raglund, about 11 miles southeast of Ashville in St. Clair County, and about 17 miles from my home. The bird was described as definitely a bird of prey, and according to the finder, "possibly an eagle." As to this identification, Anne was skeptical. But not matter, we would bring it in. ("We" here means Pat and me; Pat usually accompanies me on these trips.)
When I contacted the finder, I was told that the bird was in a portable dog kennel at his house. When I got to his house, I found a fledgling raptor with some early feathers on the wings and body, but a round head covered only with white fuzz, looking very like a tennis ball with beak and big black eyes.
It appeard to be in good health and alert and when I reached in to transfer it to the box I had brought, in reared back on its hind legs, stretched itself up, spread its wings wide, and opened its beak, all in the typical threat posture. (Now who taught this little fellow to do that at this age?) But a gentle approach with an open towel subdued him, and he was easily transferred to the box. Whatever its condition, we were to take it in for routine inspection. On the way, we were lead to the exact spot where it was found. It was found sitting in the middle of the road (County 26) about a couple or three miles west of Ragland. Here I looked around for a nest, but saw none. Upon delivery at the Center, the bird was immediately recognized as a baby Broadwing Hawk.
A few days later, I received a call from the Center inviting me to meet Gregg Smith and lead him to the place where the baby Broadwing was found in order to reunite it with its parents. He arrived at our arranged place of rendezvous with a ladder, a laundry basket full of pine needles (to be used as an artificial nest), a recording of a baby hawk's "hunger" call, and of course the bird in a box. When we got to the site, I checked with people in a nearby house to see if any hawks had been spotted in the area. I was told that hawks had been seen flying around the garden area. That was a cleared area of a few acres and a rather large pond about three to four hundred yards beyone the house. I thought that would be a good hunting ground for hawks, but from here to the middle of the road would have been a very long way fo this little fellow to have floundered. Even so, I thought the better part of valor required a search, but I found nothing.
Upon returning to the highway, Gregg announced that he had just found the nest. Very obscure; hidden about half-way up -- 30 or 40 feet -- in the multiple fork of a densely branched pine tree about 30 feet off the road on the downhill side. That it was an active nest and very probably the one we were looking for was evidenced by the silhouette of the head of a baby bird bobbing around in it, but we saw no adults.
We put up the ladder and Gregg tied the basket onto a forked branch, two or three limbs above the ladder and perhaps about 15 feet above the base of the tree. He then pulled up the box, which I had tied to his rope with the bird in it, set the bird in the nest, pulled up the bag of mice and deposited them in the nest. I broke off some sweetgum branches and handed them up, which Gregg wove into the basket for cmmouflage. He then came down and we gathered up our paraphernalia. He started playing the hunger call through the speakers and we walke a short distance away to watch. We waited maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but no parent showed. But when we left, the baby was eating a mouse. A good sign we thought.
Pat and I drove to the nest site a few days later and saw the little hawk standing on the edge of its artificial nest looking very alert and watching us with intense curiosity. We could not see the sibling in its natural nest, nor did we see any adult bird.
A couple of days later I was invited to meet Bryan Jones to receive an injured hawk and continue its journey to the Center. I was aksed if I would be willing to take an orhpan Broadwing baby to the nest where we had returned teh baby a few days before. Well, sure!
I delivered the bird to the Center. After receiving instruction and with the baby bird in a box, with a bag of eight or ten frozen mice, I left the Center. Pat and I arrived at the nest site later that afternoon. A preliminary look revealed the first baby standing on the edge of the basket, watching us as before. His body was much more feathered now in only those few days, and his head was specked brown. "Okay, folks," he seemed to be asking, "what are we up to now?"
So, with as little ruckus as possible, I set up the ladder (which made terrible clanking sounds as it was being extended!), opened the box and placed a small dish towel over the bird, tied the box to one end of my rope, tied the bag of mice to the other end, and tied the middle of the rope to my belt. Then I started up the ladder very slowly and talking very softly to the bird as I went. I perched myself comfortably on a limb with my head just beneath the top of the basket, but with the basket within easy reach. From there, through the web of the basket, I could see the bird standing at the far side and looking back at me.
After orienting the orphan for proper pick-up, I gently removed the towel, picked up the bird and transferred it to the nest. The other bird stepped back, and seemed a bit surprised to see this new occupant, but made no overt signs of aggression toward it, nor retreated from it. I then deposited the mice a few at a time, all the while keeping my head just below the top of the basket and keeping up a gentle conversation with the birds.
When the mice were all deposited, I let down the empty box and mouse bag, and then, looking back at the nest for a final check, I was somewhat startled to see that the older bird had walked ou on the limb away from the nest four or five feet, but appeared to be comfortable there. I climbed down and repacked my gear.
Before leaving, we quietly observed the nests and the older bird had by then moved back into the nest and was eating one of the mice, while the little orphan looked on. We heard the hunger call sounding exactly like the recording Gregg had played three days before and we saw at least one adult and possibly two.
When we revisited the nest a couple of days later, we saw an adult at the upper nest apparently feeding a juvenile. We saw the first (reunited) bird standing on the edge of the basket nest. He was conspicuously larger now, with brown specks on its head and beginning to look very much like the adult hawk he will be. But we were concerned that we could not see our little step-sibling -- until after watching for several minutes, that little white head popped up above the top of the basket as though from a deep sleep and wondering what everybody's looking at. We left with hearts uplifted.
I visited the site one more time two days later. Immediately visible was the little step-sibling standing in the laundry basket nest, his body now mostly brown, but his round head still fuzzy white. Then I saw the older bird standing on the limb, some 10 or 12 feet out from the basket, his body well-feathered, his head still with some white streaks, but now mostly brown.
I saw no activity at the upper nest and searched diligently for a third bird from various angles up and down the road. Eventually -- yes -- there! -- on the limb 15 or even 20 feet from the nest, and at about the same level. I'm convinced, though not absolutely certain, that it was the third juvenile. Its posture and the fuzzy-looking silhouette of the head was convincing. If I am right, and this ws the third juvenile, then I saw no adults, but these birds are obviously well cared for. At my last look, the older bird from the basket nest was hopping about from limb to limb.
Narrative by Gene Addor