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Soaring again, against the odds

A red-tailed hawk returns to the wild near the Upper Table Rock trailhead after Wildlife Images of Grants Pass rehabilitated the animal for a gunshot injury last month. [Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan]
This injured hawk is among 12 wild birds that have been brought in to Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in Grants Pass with gunshots this year. The animal was brought in Oct. 19 and returned to the wild Saturday. [Wildlife Images photo]
Red-tailed hawk treated for gunshot wounds is back in the wild

After passing veterinarians’ tests with flying colors, a red-tailed hawk found shot last month in Central Point has made a full recovery.

Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center released the bird of prey back into the wilderness Saturday morning at the Upper Table Rock Road trailhead near Central Point.

The hawk came to the Grants Pass nonprofit on Oct. 19, according to Jen Osburn-Eliot, the Grants Pass nonprofit’s animal services manager. The hawk — she believes it to be a male but isn’t certain — went on to make one of the swiftest recoveries she’s seen for a wild bird with a gunshot injury.

The bullet struck the bird’s outer wing. Wildlife veterinarians removed one fragment from muscle tissue earlier this month, and left another fragment to heal around bone.

Osburn-Eliot described the trajectory of the bullet and how the fragments struck the animal as “ideal, as far as getting shot can go.”

“He was actually the most ideal possibility I have ever seen,” Osburn-Elliot said. “We always want the birds to heal quickly and to make it to release, and the ideal window is four weeks — he’s at four weeks.”

“He didn’t have any delays in his recovery,” Osburn-Eliot added.

Only one of two bones in the bird’s outer wing was fractured from the gunshot. Veterinarians splinted the wing by wrapping it to itself and stabilized it against the bird’s body for about two weeks.

After bone healed, Wildlife Images used physical therapy to extend the braced wing and regularly massaged it to ensure proper range of motion.

To rebuild its muscle, Wildlife Images moved the hawk to a small outdoor enclosure “with a lot of perches in it.”

“To get up to a perch he had to work to get up high and build up those muscles,” Osburn-Eliot said.

The hawk graduated to a medium sized outdoor enclosure last week, and on Friday moved to Wildlife Images’ “absolute biggest enclosure,” where it insisted on staying at the top.

“He decided to fly up and then hung from the ceiling,” Osburn-Eliot said, adding that they needed a net to get the bird down.

Osburn-Eliot and staff member Kaitlyn Scheffler opened the carrier. After a few minutes of mild cajoling, the hawk flew away.

The hawk immediately picked a perch atop a tree roughly 20 yards away, then picked a fight with an American kestrel. Osburn-Eliot and Scheffler were pleased and relieved to see the animal fending for itself so quickly.

“This is why we do it, and it feels so good,” Scheffler said.

The outcome is a rare one, according to Osburn-Eliot. In 2019, Wildlife Images treated two hawks with similar injuries. Neither pulled through.

As of Saturday, the animal is one of 12 wild birds brought in to the nonprofit with gun injuries this year — two gun injured birds came in just last week — and one of only two this year to survive long enough to be rehabilitated.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.