Junior the Redtail Hawk

Posted on May 23rd, 2016

Al was licensed by the California Fish and Game and Commission and the federal government to create a bird of prey center at the preserve. He received many birds for their relocation use and also offered care, at his hospital, to many damaged or young birds that had either been abandoned or had fallen out of their nests.

One day, the Department of Fish and Game brought in a proud, young red tail hawk with a fractured right wing. Normally this would be an easy medical fix; however the break was close to the elbow which often makes flight impossible. Al didn’t want to amputate the wing and see this lovely symbol of freedom spend the rest of his life in a cage. He set the wing and hoped that motility would return to his wing and euthanasia would not be the hawk’s final act.

Al named him Junior and did everything he could to help him to live. Feeding him chunks of meat and chicken to stoke the engines of healing. Junior was also doing his part to return to normal. Keeping active each day and carefully climbing the stairs to the veranda at sunset where he would spend each night. Feeding time would bring a smile to Al’s lips. Junior reminded him of a little old Rabbi as he made his way to the food. As soon as Junior realized he could use his healed wing a bit. He worked very hard at flexing and moving it. Soon his broken bone healed and he regained use of his elbow. He found he could still fly but not very well.

As Junior regained his “air force wings”, other more territorial red tail hawks began to chase him. Al knew it was good exercise but would always leave the garage door open, so junior would have a safe haven. Slowly but surely he became his own hawk. Every dinner time Al would whistle and hold a lamb heart in the air and junior would swoop down and pluck it from his hand. His near vision was not quite as good as the far and Al still has scars to prove it. It was a long hard road but eventually Junior managed to become, king of the hill.

Junior became one of the family. On windy days when Al’s sons would fly their kites, Junior would drop down from 10,000 feet and knuckle their kites. Each day when the boys would walk up the farm road to catch their school bus, Junior would follow close behind, perch on the telephone pole while they waited and then fly back as the school bus left.

Then one day, Fish and Game brought out a large, female, red tailed hawk. Al called her Bianca. She had flashing eyes and an independent manner and it did not take her long to capture Junior’s fancy. They set up housekeeping in a huge eucalyptus tree at the end of the canyon. Each day, they would soar the thermals together returning to their nest each evening as the sun painted the western sky.

One day Al noticed that Junior was flying solo. Concerned, he visited the tree at the end of the canyon. Bianca was there, seriously redoing the nest. One afternoon, while one of the occasional parties Al hosted on the veranda was in full swing, Bianca flew by to show Al what was on the menu for the baby. A 6 foot long gopher snake. As fall fell, Al found that his favorite hawks had vacated their nest. He was a bit sad but not too concerned for almost all of the 150 to 200 birds, Al had rehabilitated, were migratory. This year Junior, Bianca and their young one gave in to the urge and joined the migration. The next Valentine’s Day was a grey day, the morning heavy with rain. Al happened to glance out at the railing and there perched Junior, wet but still proud, his familiar blue sear visible on his beak. As Al looked beyond him to the large split rock at the back side of the preserve, he saw Bianca and their young one and was, unexpectantly, caught up in his emotions. They had come home to Dad! It was raining so hard that there was nothing for them to catch so…they came home to Dad.

Al quickly got some chicken breasts out of fridge and held one out to Junior. He took it smooth and easy. Old habits are hard to break. The others he flew back to his mate and the young one. Al watched from a distance as they shared the catch under the dense grey sky. Soon the rain let up and the family moved on but to this day, whenever Al hears the scream of a hawk, He looks to the heavens hoping that it might be his Junior stopping by for a visit.

Written by David Spangenburg and included in a book by David Spangenburg and Dr. Al Plechner and entitled, “Against the Odds, Given Up for Dead”.