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Redtail Hawk Rescue

jacob kilbride gets a lesson in hawk handling

jacob kilbride gets a lesson in hawk handling. PHOTO BY Barbara Bergwerf

Provided by Mary Pringle

Redtailed Hawks are very common on the Isle of Palms and on Sullivan’s Island. They help to keep the rodent population in check and can even be seen hovering over the shore, looking down into vegetated dunes, or perched on telephone poles or tall structures looking for field rats or mice. Many tall oak trees on our barrier islands contain their large nests, which are built 30-60 feet up and typically contain two to four eggs, which the hawks lay in April. A pair of these hawks, which have been seen perched on the cross above the Methodist Church on 21st Avenue, hatched their nest at the corner of Palm and 20th Avenue this year. Their two offspring were fledging the second week of June.

Fledging, or leaving the nest and learning to fly, is a very dangerous stage in a young bird’s life because their flying skills and judgment are not yet developed. Barry Murphy, who lives on the corner of Palm and 20th, noticed a large young hawk down in his yard. The bird had been there all day. He called The Center for Birds of Prey, which is part of the Avian Conservation Center, because he was concerned about it. He knew that the nest was in the tall oak in his yard. I was dispatched to check on it, and after gently catching it with heavy gloves, I tried to put it into a smaller tree nearby. However, the fledgling refused to stay in the small tree and was soon seen on the ground in the middle of busy traffic on Palm Blvd.! His sibling nest mate was still high in the tree, calling to the parent hawks for food. It seemed that the best solution was to get the youngster back up into the tree where it belonged.

A call was made to the Isle of Palms Fire Department, and in a short time, firemen Jacob Kilbride and Chris Puckhaber arrived with a fire truck equipped with a long ladder. After a quick lesson in hawk handling, Jacob carried the hawk high up into the tree. In this stage of development called “branching”, young birds are out of the nest and climbing around the nest tree, exercising their muscles by flapping their wings in preparation for flight, all while being fed and tended by the parents. This bird was not able to fly back up into the tree after fluttering down, but now, both birds are fledged and are leaving the tree on a regular basis. The young hawks are often seen on the ground and in the trees while exploring their habitat and learning the skills they need to survive.

The Center for Birds of Prey is a great resource for the public to call when an injured bird of prey – hawk, owl, falcon, osprey, eagle, kite, or vulture – is found. There are volunteers who can quickly respond and transport the bird to the Center’s medical facility on Sewee Road near Awendaw. According to Jim Elliott, the Executive Director, 25-30 percent of the 350-400 birds treated annually are Redtail Hawks. The staff there is able to rehabilitate many cases, which may include bone fractures from collisions with cars or windows, gunshot wounds, electric shock from power lines, emaciation cases, and orphaned nestlings. Although the medical facility is not open to the public, the Center welcomes the public Thursdays through Saturdays from 10am to 5pm for guided tours and flight demonstrations using non-releasable resident birds from all over the world. For admission information, tour times, and directions to the Center for Birds of Prey, visit the website at

If you ever encounter an injured bird of prey, please call their phone number immediately: 971-7474.

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