This gorgeous Red-shouldered hawk flew through one of the ten-foot wide loading doors and into the building, and couldn’t manage to find her way out. Or perhaps she didn’t want to; it was last February in upstate New York, a foot of snow was piled outside, and Home Depot was a balmy 60 degrees. At one point eight wildlife rehabilitators fanned out through the building, all of us armed with long-handled nets, crates, elbow-length leather gloves, and a toe-snare hawk trap, which looks like a small wire cage and contains two live mice. The hawk soared gracefully and unobtainably over our heads, while we received varied responses from shoppers.
The Outdoor Guys would spot our nets, grin, and crack, “Catch any stripers yet?” The Indoor Types would visibly flinch and assume hunted expressions. The ones I still can’t categorize ignored us completely, as if people walking around with nets and leather gloves were something they encountered all the time. The Curmudgeons glared at us and heaved disgusted sighs, as if we were just one more piece of hell their sorry lives were forcing upon them. There were a few, though, who instantly brightened, eyes wide, and asked, “Hey! What are you lookin’ for?”
The employees couldn’t have been nicer. They named her Elvis, as they wanted to be able to say, “Elvis has left the building.” They kept one of our crates, and promised to call us should they somehow succeed in catching her when we weren’t around. They strapped us into their mechanical lifts so we could set the trap on their very top shelf, then repeated it before we left (we couldn’t leave the trap overnight, as the hawk’s toes could break if they became entangled and we weren’t there to free her). Worried about her food intake, we took to coming every other day and surreptitiously leaving defrosted mice on the top shelf.
A week later she flew into the garden center and knocked herself cold against the window. An employee quickly put her into the crate and called my co-hawk hunter Erin Baker, who in turn, called me. Before we could get there, however, the hawk regained consciousness, and a new manager took her outside and let her go. Elvis had left the building, but not in a good way.
We found her 15 feet up a nearby tree, woozy from her concussion and shivering in the 20 degree cold. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far to find a ladder. We struggled through a vicious patch of pricker-covered vines, carrying a crate, gloves, towel, and a Home Depot ladder, both of us cursing the cold and raked bloody by the vines. I climbed up, grabbed the hawk, and handed her down to Erin, who put her in the crate.
I kept her until spring, then Erin let her go at Teatown Lake Reservation, an 834-acre nature center in Ossining, NY. The release was attended by a small group of Home Depot employees, several fellow hawk-catchers, and a local reporter. The following day Elvis was seen in a tree overlooking the lake, munching on a vole. All’s well that ends well – even for the two hawk-trap mice, borrowed from a pet store. “They’ve been traumatized,” said Erin, even though, to a casual observer, they showed no apparent signs of distress. “Poor little things – they’d better come home with me.”
Photo of Elvis as well as of Erin Baker, Environmental Educator and Animal Care Supervisor at Teatown (www.teatown.org), about to release her, both by Elissa Schilmeister.