Wednesday, August 18, 2010

REGI Patient Releases

Above: Interns Katie R. and Karissa release another of our Broad-winged Hawk patients

One of our favorite activities at REGI is to release a fully rehabilitated bird, giving it a second chance to live in its wild habitat. Sometimes, our releases are publicized and attended by many members of the public, who get to see a Bald Eagle return to its home territory, or a large owl fly off into the night, or a Trumpeter Swan, completely free of the lead poisoning that almost killed it, rejoin its family on the water. Sometimes, we release fully rehabilitated birds at or near our REGI facility, as the surrounding area offers ideal habitat for them. And sometimes, a release is a quiet, private celebration, as was the recent release of a Broad-winged Hawk that I had the honor of performing.

The hawk had been thoroughly checked over one final time by our rehabilitation team, and it had been fed generously, so it would be full when released and would not have search for food immediately in its new situation. The bird had been picked up injured in eastern Marathon County, so I headed to a suitable place not far from where it had been found. I checked the surrounding area, satisfied that the habitat was appropriate for, and would likely be familiar to, this handsome hawk. I stopped the vehicle in a quiet place. I carefully lifted the box out of the front floor where the hawk had taken its last (I very much hope) ride in a car. I placed the box on the ground, letting the hawk settle a bit after moving it from my vehicle. We both listened to the sounds of the woods nearby.

I slowly opened part of the top, allowing the hawk to see up and out a few moments, then opened the box completely. We sometimes joke that it would be nice if each bird, as it is released, turns slowly back, as if in a Hollywood movie with music swelling in the background, and tips its wing in a kind of "movie-romantic" thank-you wave. In reality, the bird typically just takes off, heading in the direction it wants, and doesn't look back. Just so with this hawk. A confident jump to the rim of the box and it was gone in a flash, flying strongly and with seeming purpose toward and into the woods close to the release site. I caught one fleeting glimpse of the hawk, a confident, healthy, speeding blur headed for a new life. I stood for a few minutes, taking in the surrounding sounds and scenery, and returned to my car. A brief, silent, solitary experience shared with a beautiful raptor...a memory that, for me, will last much, much longer.

Steve Fisher
REGI Education Director