Written by Rita Castillo of Oregon
I don’t have a photo because this happened fast, I was alone, and I needed both hands for this rescue.
I was an 11-year-old girl growing up in a low-income house in Azusa, CA. Very short and thin for my age. One day our two elderly miniature poodles set up a terrible ruckus in a bushy corner of our backyard.
They were threatening to murder a red-tailed hawk. The hawk was on her back, wings spread, tangled up in a rose bush, about two feet from the ground. The rose bush had her trapped in the corner against the redwood fence. She was breaking feathers on tail and wings as she flailed, terrified, crying out, trying to get a grip on something so she could right herself.
Getting the crazed dogs into the house would cost too much time. Speaking calmingly, I reached for one of her legs– and got deeply slashed by her beak. Tried again and got slashed again. (Raptors’ necks are waaaaay longer than you think they are!)
Our eyes met for real, then, and suddenly she stopped flailing. I put my forearm at an angle so she could grab it. There was a moment of peace between us, and her toes slowly and gently took hold of my forearm. I peeled rosebush away with my left hand and slowly brought my right arm up. She weighed four or five pounds — she seemed heavy to me.
When she realized she was untangled, she shifted position so she was upright, checking the poodles’ position and realizing they were unable to jump high enough to reach her. She just sat for a moment, gathering herself. She shook herself, dropping a few more feathers, then took flight.
Bleeding from rose thorn and beak wounds (one is still visible on my 62-year-old right hand), concerned that her feather loss would affect her flight, I watched her fly about 100 feet diagonally. I said “good luck” to her.
And then she turned around, dived and made a small circle about 15 feet over my head. I knew she was saying “thank you” to me.