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In Search of AC
Marta Curti — in West Indies Project    Share

It was still dark – 3:00 in the morning to be exact. I woke up, dressed, gathered the telemetry receiver, binoculars, rope, machete, food and water that I would need for the day and headed out into the field. I was in search of AC – a young Ridgway’s Hawk that had been released four days prior, but had not yet returned to the release site for food.

Actually, this was the second time my co-worker Christine and I had released AC. The first time didn’t go much better. Only a few hours after we opened the doors to the box, he flew awkwardly to a low tree. The next day we found him perched just a few feet off the ground in a bush, being mobbed by mockingbirds. He seemed weak and a bit uncoordinated. So we gently scooped him up and placed him back in the hack box to give him a few more days of growing before we released him again.

So now, we were on “Round II” and too much time had passed since he last ate. It is normal that a bird will take a day or two before returning to the box after release, but by the fourth day we knew the hawk could become weak from hunger, and if it got to that point, it would be very vulnerable to predators and possibly starvation. So our idea was to find his roost spot and, at first light, place food for him in the hopes he would eat.

After about two hours of hiking and following AC’s radio transmitter signal with the receiver I carried, I finally found the hawk. He was perched safely high up in a very tall tree. Though this was a good sign, it would be impossible for me to get food to him, so I had to wait it out. In the meantime, my co-worker Thomas Hayes, who was working at another site, was ready in case he had to come out and help climb the tree. At the same time, Christine and Mojave Hayes were on their way out to meet me. A few minutes before they arrived, AC flew. We tracked him through the dense forest, evading wasp nests, clumps of thorny vines and Poisonwood Trees. About half an hour later we found AC again. This time he was perched much lower. We placed some food on a branch next to him, hoping he would eat, and then we snuck away and waited quietly out of sight. Although he remained perched by the food, inching closer and closer for over two hours, he flew without taking a bite.

Female NZ, released with AC.

At that point,Christine and Mojave returned to the hack site to continue to monitor the other birds. I remained behind, just in case another opportunity arose to place food for him. At about an hour before sunset, I decided to call it quits for the day. I was walking back to the main road, but continued to check his signal to see if I could spot him one more time to make sure he was in a good roost spot. After about twenty minutes, I located him. He wason the ground! This was not good. When I got close, he flew up into a low branch, but I could tell that he was weak. Luckily, I was able to gently pick him up and carry him back to the hack site. Christine and I gave him some fresh food, which he ate heartily, and placed him back in the hack box for a couple of more days. Would the THIRD time be the charm? Two days later we released him again. And again he flew from the box and disappeared for the rest of the day. But this time, it worked. The next morning he was back on the hack box feeding and has returned most every day since for the past two months!

The Ridgway’s Hawk is one of the most critically endangered raptors in the world. The life of each and every one is vital to the survival of the population. Birds, I guess, are like everyone else. Some do great right from the start, others need a bit of help. But, if we can keep them alive and healthy until they disperse and become independent, we are helping to increase their chances of survival and of eventually producing and raising young of their own. Though at times it was stressful searching for AC and worrying whether he would return or not, the effort was well worth it!

Find more articles about Ridgway's Hawk, Neotropics

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