March 15, 2019 – It was a very sad day for me on December 4, 2018. My Harris’ hawk, Sundance, escaped from his mew at 11:00 am on December 4, 2018. Sundance is on my state and federal permit for educational presentation purposes. At the time he only had his anklets and federal band on, thank goodness. If he had had all of his falconry equipment on he most likely would not have survived on his nineteen day excursion.
Sundance is a falconry bird that was retired six years ago by a falconer in the Stockton area. The falconer was down sizing and asked me if I wanted his male Harris’ hawk for my educational presentations. I responded, “How soon can I meet with you?” Harris’ hawks only live in the Southwest United States. I find them very interesting as they stay together as a family all year long which is not common for raptors. Like a pack of wolves with feathers.
Sundance has been with me ever since living in a mew on my property. The day he escaped I was cleaning his mew with the hose tucked under the corner of the security door. Sundance takes great advantage of his mew cleaning time spending as much time as he can under the water spray of the hose. The latch was clipped but with the hose bending the lower corner of the security door it made his escape easy and totally my fault. As I was filling his bath he flew over my head as usual and into the security area usually making a U turn and back onto his favorite perch in the mew. This time he didn’t make that U turn. I heard him land on the door screen. When I looked over towards him his left foot was on the door latch. At that very second the latch popped open. Sundance is hanging onto the door as it was opening every so slowly. I put my fist out and tapped it hoping he would hop onto it as he would have any other time. But this time he had other plans. Sundance looked at me, looked at the oak tree near by, back at me and off he went to my deck railing and then the oak tree. He gave me a couple of happy tail flips and off on his adventure. He did return a few times that day flying over my house watching me try to lure him in with a mouse on the glove. Not interested.
Many of my friends posted news about Sundance and asking people to watch for him – a big brown hawk, cayenne colored feathers on top of his wings, and a large white patch at base of tail with white on tips of tail feathers. Over the next nineteen days I went on 23 calls of possible sightings of Sundance. No luck. On December 22, 2018, I was on call and returned a call to a lady that lived at the end of Squirrel Creek Road in GV. She was wondering what kind on hawk was in her yard that she had never seen before. It was jumping into her compost pile and eating lettuce. I explained that hawks don’t eat lettuce but that he most likely was eating the mice and rats that eat from compost piles. I asked her to describe the hawk. Usually on these types of calls they turn out to be a red-shouldered hawk or red-tailed hawk. However, the lady was curious enough to Google the hawk she was seeing in her yard. When she said she could not remember the species of the hawk but the hawk she was seeing only lived in the Southwest United States . . . and it had something on its legs.
My next question was, “What is your address? Be right there. It is my missing hawk.” I grabbed one glove, a frozen rat and a falconer’s trap just in case. Arriving at the location the lady pointed out the hawk in a tree about 35 yards away. It had its back to me with one foot curled up getting ready for the evening roost. I held out the rat and called his name. The second he heard his name he turned with wings out, left the branch and flew directly at me eye to eye. I did not care where he landed on me. I would have him back! Sundance grabbed the rat with such power from my hand I lost grip and he took it to the ground. I picked him up and wanted to give him a kiss but that is not always a good idea with a hawk that wants to fed.
One of the happiest days of my life!! Sundance had gained 70 grams while on his excursion. So he was successfully hunting. No predators had taken him. He was in very good condition. His falconry days saved his life.
Editor’s note: WR&R needs more volunteers! Anyone interested in joining the raptor rehab team, contact Kim Franza, Raptor Team Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
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