Friday, March 10, 2006

A Sad Ending

I should have put her down right after she came in. The kid who brought her to me said when he'd heard some migrant workers shooting a few days before, he was afraid they'd been going after the two hawks that nested each year behind his house.

The bird he brought me was the female. She was large for a red-shouldered hawk. And she was strong and agressive, which surprised me given her injuries. The wound was the cruelest kind. It had blown out her shoulder joint, leaving a gaping hole ringed by shards of shattered bone. She'd been hit in the throat, too. Necrosis had set in, and I debrided what dead flesh I could before cleaning her up and putting her in a quiet place.

Most birds that severely injured are already giving up the ghost by the time I get them. They arrive hunched over, head bowed, wings slumping as if in supplication. "Please just help me leave," they seem to say. And it's easy to comply, to ease their suffering.

The ones that fight to live, though, it's harder to give up on them. This hawk should have been dead already. The wound was mortal and far from fresh. But there she stood, good wing flared, crest raised, mouth open. "Don't touch me. Stay away. I'm not ready."

So I gave her some time. And I gave myself some to mull over what possibilities there were. I considered calling my vet, to ask him to do surgery to pin the joint. I could almost hear his voice, "Pin it to what? There's nothing there to pin it to. It's shot. You've been doing this long enough to know..."

He'd have been right, too. So I decided to do what needed to be done. There was no hope for the bird. She couldn't survive, no matter how much she or I wanted it. To keep her alive was just to prolong her misery.

Later, when the kids were occupied, I went to to euthanize her. When I looked in her kennel, my first thought was, "Who put a chicken egg in this cage?" Then I looked closer and saw the stain of blood on the egg, the moisture on the paper where she'd just laid it.

I put my hand over my mouth in shock. Thirteen years. Thirteen years of working with birds of prey and I've never had anything like this happen. There's been bumbling orphans and dramatic releases and ungrateful patients whose talons have gouged me to the bone. But never an egg.

The hawk was weaker. Laying the thing had taken a lot out of her. Now I knew why she was so defiant, why she fought. There was something she was supposed to do before she left. And she had done it.

I sat down on the floor and cried, something I haven't allowed myself to do over birds since learning - long ago - that it doesn't do a damn bit of good. But this moved me. Spring is coming. Birds are laying their eggs and somewhere, this bird's mate waited near a nest that would never welcome her or their offspring.

I took her out. She was weaker, much weaker. Her eyes didn't have the edge I'd seen when she'd first arrived. She didn't fight. Larry offered to take her out for me. I thanked him as I handed her over.

The egg, it turns out, is smaller and rounder than a chicken egg, with a more bluish hue. You can see it in the photo above; the hawk egg is the one on the right. Larry and I talked about what to do with it. I considered tucking it in Mrs. Hensley's clutch while she wasn't looking, but she'd surely consider an affront to be duped into hatching a predator. Besides, can you imagine a hawk imprinting on a chicken? That would be the world's worst identity crisis.

Larry suggested putting it in an incubator, but in the end we decided just do do nothing with it at all. I've raised day-old hawk chicks without a problem, but the risk of imprinting on humans is always a possibility. It's bad enough that the mother should never go free. It seemed wrong to risk compounding the error by dooming it's chick to captivity.

Besides, I figured I'd anthropromorphized enough for one day. The egg wasn't a dying wish, but the last primal act of an creature who'd flown over the wrong sort of humans and found not admiration, but death.

Best to let it go and hope next time things will have a better outcome.


tc said...

Real sorry to hear about this, Morgan. I think you did the right thing, though.


Morgan said...

You're a gem, Tom. Thanks for caring and thanks for being a sounding board. I'm comfortable with the decision. Part of me wanted to stash the egg in an incubator, but that wouldn't have brought the mama back. When I really thought about it, doing that would have just been selfish. Have a great weekend.

tc said...

You're very welcome. My daughter's mother-in-law's in the hospital so I think that we're going to take the grandkids (12 and 8) on Saturday and Sunday so she and her husband can spend some time there.

With any luck at all, Marcey and kitten and I'll jump in the car and take them up to see my mother. They'd like that, I think, it should be in the 60s at the farm.

Good weekend to you, too.


Taylor said...

Morgan, I understand how you would want to do everything possible for that poor hawk in her final struggle. Sad story. Have gone out of my way many times to help creatures in need.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Taylor. This one really got to me. *sigh* But what can one do? Life if full of disappointments.

It doesn't surprise me that you've helped out animals that need it. I've not known you long but I've known you long enough to recognize a good heart when I see one. :-)

Morgan said...

Sounds like fun, Tom. Have a great time with the grandkids! I know your daughter must really appreciate your help.

Taylor said...

Thank you, Morgan. I can say the same about you.