A young red-shouldered hawk, nearly burned to death a year ago, is soaring the skies of Sarasota again.
When she arrived at the Save Our Seabirds clinic on Longboat Key, she barely had any feathers left, said founder and chief medical administrator Lee Fox.
"Her chest feathers, her back feathers, the feathers on the top of her head, her bill, her feet and her legs were singed. All the feathers on her wings and tail were singed right off."
Fox has been rehabilitating all species of birds for a very long time, but hadn't seen anything quite like this. Based on where the hawk was found, and after doing some research, she concluded it was injured by a methane tube that vents gas, and sometimes flames, from landfills.
Fox says landfills attract rodents, which attract hawks and other birds of prey. "The birds like to soar in the hot air. It gives them an uplift, they like to play in it. Then all of a sudden up shoots a flame and the birds get injured."
It was touch and go for a while, but slowly the bird they named "Sparky" started growing back feathers. They kept her in an aviary away from people as much as possible, releasing live prey to help keep her hunting skills sharp.
Several weeks ago, they added a companion: A young male hawk with a fracture.
Nearly a year to the day she came in, Sparky was ready to be released. Fox chose the 72-acre Red Bug Slough Preserve in Sarasota, where there would be lots of prey.
After unlatching the carrier and stepping back, Sparky wasn't so sure about what was happening. She assumed a defensive posture and got a little feisty with her rehabbers, but then suddenly, she took off to a nearby tree.
Moments later, Fox released her companion, the young male hawk, hoping they'll make a swift adjustment to life back in the wild.
Fox says there's a short window of opportunity to release a bird like Sparky before it becomes too dependent on humans.
"Once she got to a certain point, we were positive she was going to be able to go, and for her sake we wanted to get her out now, before winter."
It's what a rehabber like Fox lives for, to see the wildlife they save recover, and return to where they belong.
To learn more about Save Our Seabirds: http://www.saveourseabirds.org/
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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