WSU veterinarians find young hawk new parents

A pair of Swainson’s hawks stand watch over their nest.
A pair of Swainson’s hawks stand watch over their nest located near the WSU Stauber Raptor Center.

A nestling Swainson’s hawk found this past summer outside an Idaho bar is likely now more than 6,000 miles south enjoying the Argentine sun thanks to Washington State University and a pair of adult hawks that called Pullman home.

The young hawk was discovered in the early morning hours on a truck in the parking lot of a Lewiston establishment by bar patrons who phoned wildlife rehabilitators at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for advice on how to handle the situation. 

“I got the first call at around 1 or 2 in the morning — we don’t usually get calls that late on wildlife,” Dr. Marcie Logsdon, a wildlife veterinarian at WSU’s Veterinary Hospital, said. “When a young raptor falls from the nest, the ideal thing is for us to get them back into the nest where they came from. But, in this situation, that was not going to work because we had no idea where he actually came from.”

The next best option, Logsdon said, was to find surrogate parents for the bird. Swanson’s hawk pairs are known to care for as many as four chicks each season, and it just so happened there was a pair with only a single chick in a nest outside of WSU’s Stauber Raptor Center, where veterinarians treat approximately 100 sick and injured raptors every year. 

Less than a week after it arrived at WSU, Logsdon had ensured the raptor was disease-free and healthy and received permission from wildlife officials to release the bird.

“This baby was old enough that he could hop around, so I went out one morning and put him up in the lower branches of the nest tree,” she said. “He heard the adults and the other baby above him and so he just went right on up — I didn’t even have to get a ladder.”

Fortunately, the adults eagerly accepted the hawk into their nest and cared for it as if it was their own. Logsdon and others monitored the new family until the group began their long migration south.

“Migration is not danger-free,” Logsdon said, “but in theory, he should have spent Christmas down in Argentina.”

Logsdon said it is a high priority to home orphan Swainson’s hawks with wild adults that can care for the youngsters during migration.

“They’ve got to leave early, before the babies can survive on their own, to make it back down to Argentina for the winter,” she said. “When they start migrating, the babies are not independent from the adults yet, and they’re still relying on their parents to teach them on the way down.”

If an appropriate nest hadn’t been found, Logsdon said the bird would have been cared for at WSU until migration began.

“We can keep them fat, happy and healthy, we just have a really hard time when it comes to teaching them those important life skills,” she said. “We would have tried to time our release very carefully to match it with the migration so it could hopefully join up with a large group.” 

WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is one of the only 24‑hour emergency services for wildlife rehabilitation in Washington east of the Cascades. More than 500 injured or orphaned wildlife are brought to WSU from throughout the Pacific Northwest every year.

Logsdon said people should contact a local wildlife agent or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital 24‑hour WSU wildlife hotline at 509‑335‑0711 before intervening with a wild animal they believe may be orphaned or injured.

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