Story by Ana Henderson on 06/05/2019Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is made up of 1,300 square miles, around the same size as the state of Rhode Island. Within those miles a variety of wild animals inhibit the land, one of which is the red-tailed hawk.
Recently a family of red-tailed hawks were nesting above the water tower near Laguna Airfield. Two young hawks fell from their nest. A member of the Military Free Fall School discovered them and called YPG's Wildlife Biologist, Daniel Steward.
"He was hoping around pretty healthy," said Steward of one of the creatures. Unfortunately, the other young hawk did not survive the fall.
The surviving hawk was approximately four to six weeks old, and found just before fledgling, which is when a young bird has developed preliminary flight feathers and is ready to leave the nest.
The team rescued the hawk and looked to Linda Winchell, a Customer Service Representative at the Arizona Department of Game and Fish who also rehabilitates birds, for her skills.
"Our first priority is to keep it wild" explained Winchell. "But in this situation it was not safe for him to be there."
Winchell cared for the hawk, keeping him in a bird cage and feeding him animals he would find in the wild. After about four weeks of rehabilitating the hawk she saw indicators that it was time for him to go back into his natural habitat.
"He was getting nervous to have me by the cage and he was eating well."
Normally the team would re-release the hawk in the location where he was found, but since the area on the airfield was not a safe zone for the hawk they found another spot nearby.
"Looking at this area, its close geographically," said Steward. "We wanted to find someplace with a good wash, plenty of vegetation, ground squirrels, all kinds of prey animals here for him."
The time had come to release the little guy. As soon as they opened the gate, he bounced once or twice and flew to a nearby tree and stayed on a low branch.
Everyone was elated to see the hawk in nature again.
"He did exactly what I expected him to do," exclaimed Winchell. "I thought he would either bounce to get up off the ground or he would fly."
"It's a great thing to see, that's what we ultimately want to see for all of our fledglings," added Steward. "We want to see them become part of the population and the ecosystem."
The hawk will most likely practice flying between branches in low areas for a few days until he is ready to fly. The hawk will not be tracked-- It's on its own now.
"It's a disadvantage when a bird is not raised by his parents: in nature they will have that chance to be climbing the ladder of the trees while still being fed by the mother bird," said Steward. "But he's got a good head start. He's strong, he just has to figure out where to perch, how to fly, and how to hunt."
After successfully re-releasing the hawk into its new home, Steward explained that this type of work is what the team does as one of its many duties.
"We operate under an integrated natural resource management plan and one of the big parts of that plan is conserving migratory birds," he said. "We try to avoid disturbing habitats and nests. If we do see animals having a problem, we try to intercede and rescue them."