HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 30, 2007, Herald Journal

Raptor in the rafters

By JEN BAKKEN

One morning, we were in our garage and heard something on the roof. We thought maybe it was a squirrel, but were unsure and went to investigate because it sounded rather large.

Once in the driveway, we looked towards the roof, when suddenly, something crashed into our van before landing hard on the pavement. There, in front of us, walking dazed on its talons, was a baby hawk.  

We were about to say, “Oh, how neat,” when a loud screech emerged from the sky, and a mother hawk, with her intimidating wing span, swooped in protecting her young.  

Obviously we took cover very quickly, and I’m sure we looked rather comical as we ducked our heads and ran for our lives.For days, we watched from a safe distance as four baby hawks perfected their flying skills with their guarding mother close by. We took pictures of them, and read about them online, but it never occurred to us that one of these predators might plant itself in the rafters of our garage.

Which is why I was so surprised, as I walked through the garage one day, and something dripped past my shoulder. When I saw bird droppings on the floor, I thought I’d look over my head and find a robin, a sparrow, or any small bird. Never, in my wildest imagination, did I think I’d see a hawk, even though I’d spent a lot of time watching them flying around my yard.

My sheer terror was more than evident in my earsplitting scream, and in my mad dash through the door into the house. I had come home from work to have lunch with my children, not to see a hawk up close and personal!

Who do you call when you have a raptor in your rafters? That is a question to which I never thought I’d need the answer.

I called the police non-emergency number, admitting I had a strange problem, and they gave me the number to the DNR. The DNR told me to simply leave my garage door open and hopefully, the raptor would find its way back out. What?

I couldn’t help but envision the enormous mother hawk joining her baby in my garage, and then clawing my eyeballs out! (Well, that may be a tad dramatic, but it honestly crossed my mind.)

A co-worker said I should try calling the raptor center, and when I did, they also suggested leaving the garage door open, but to call them back if the bird didn’t find its way out.I had to get to work, and my children were not very happy about leaving them alone with a baby hawk and its mama circling our house. I instructed them to stay inside until I got home.

When I finished work, the garage door was still open, but the hawk hadn’t been able, or willing to find its way out. Not surprising was the fact that all the chipmunks, who usually pester the nooks and crannies of our garage, had suddenly disappeared, and actually all small wildlife had seemed to have hightailed it out of our yard.

We waited a couple more hours before calling the Raptor Center again, and thank goodness, they sent help in the form of a raptor rescuer by the name of Michelle Cook. She pulled into our driveway with 13 years of experience volunteering for the raptor center.

Armed with gloves, a fishing net, a ladder, a broom, which my husband used to gently guide the hawk towards the net, and a camera I annoyed them both with, the process only took about an hour. After capturing and checking the health of the Cooper’s Hawk, she released the predator into our backyard, near its three siblings.

I admit, at first, I had hoped she would take the whole hawk family back to the Raptor Center, or at the least, find somewhere else to release them. However, when Michelle told me, “There is no other experience I’ve had that quite compares to the feeling of releasing a raptor back to the wild, and knowing that I was instrumental in making it possible,” it struck a cord with me, and made me appreciate the raptors more. Yet, I still don’t want a predator in my garage ever again!

Not only do I have a new-found appreciation for hawks and other raptors, but also for the Raptor Center and their volunteers. The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine specializes in the medical care, rehabilitation, conservation, and study of eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons.

The Raptor Center has approximately 300 volunteers, and our family was lucky enough to meet one of them. For the most part, the volunteers function on specific crews, such as the clinic crew, flight and exercise crew, education crew, transport and rescue crew, and carpentry crew.

During the spring and summer, it is not uncommon for raptors, often Cooper’s Hawks, to get trapped in warehouses, screen porches, and garages. Lori Arent, clinic manager from The Raptor Center said, “They chase small birds into these structures, and then can’t figure out how to get back out.”

I never knew much about raptors. A raptor is a carnivorous (meat-eating) bird. According to the Raptor Center, all raptors share at least three main characteristics: keen eyesight, eight sharp talons, and a hooked beak.

There are approximately 482 species of raptor worldwide, 304 diurnal (day-active) species, and 178 nocturnal (night-active). This does not include the seven species of New World vultures. Birds of prey is another term used to describe raptors as a group. Raptors have existed in some form for 50 to 75 million years.

I’ve never really been a bird person, but I admit these predators have captured my attention, and the Raptor Center, along with its volunteers, have earned my respect.

One piece of advice if you ever notice a hawk’s nest, or newly flying baby hawks near your property, keep your garage door closed.

We are still in the process of cleaning our garage and the door, which looks as though it was painted with white bird droppings by way of more than just one bird.

The Raptor Center also recommends that you get your chimneys capped to prevent owls and other wildlife species from getting trapped. If raptors are in other structures, such as garages, screen porches, etc., the best thing to do is leave the door open and leave the area. Sometimes the bird will find its way out.

If three or four hours have passed and the bird has not left, contact the Raptor Center for assistance. Often, these birds are not injured; they just need a little helping hand. If a raptor is trapped in a structure for several days, it becomes dehydrated or thin, and needs medical care before being released.

If you would like information about the Raptor Center regarding hours, directions, volunteering, or donations call (612) 624-4745 or visit www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu.

To meet a bald eagle, owl, falcon, and a hawk (not the one from my garage) up close, visit the Delano Public Library Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m.

An expert from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center will be there with a variety of hands-on props and activities, to teach how these birds survive. For more information, contact the Delano Public Library at (763) 972-3467.