Even birds of prey sometimes need help.
In this instance, it was a young red-tailed hawk on Monday that was probably trying to fly for the first time but had fallen and couldn’t return to its nest about 60 feet up on a transmission tower near Fontana’s Southridge community.
The Fontana Police Department, when notified by nearby residents of the hawk’s predicament, called Southern California Edison. The fire department responded first but quickly realized that returning the hawk to its nest was unsafe, leaving the job to an SCE crew.
“This time of year we often get these calls regarding a young bird that has fallen out of a nest on our facilities,” said Kara Donohue, an SCE senior biologist. This is a rather common occurrence with young birds almost ready to leave the nest.”
When Wayne Williams, an SCE Safety and Environmental specialist, arrived, Fontana animal services officer Jamie Simmons had already secured the hawk inside a compartment in her vehicle. They then, in consultation with Donohue and other SCE operations, explored their alternatives.
“In speaking with Kara, the best alternative was to reintroduce the hawk to its nest and its mother,” said Williams.
But trying to return one to a nest was new for Mike Ward, a senior transmission patrolman, and John Egan, a lineman, who had been around hawks, but had never handled one before.
Before the attempt, they were lifted up to the nest in a bucket truck to inspect it. They found another young hawk in it and the mother, which flew out when they approached.
“We do a lot of climbing to wash insulators, so I’ve been close to birds’ nests,” said Ward. “I kind of knew what to expect from the mother and how she would react.”
Based on this and hoping to keep the grounded hawk from panicking upon its return, the crew came up with a novel approach.
Ward and Egan tied and knotted a rope to a five-gallon bucket and placed the hawk inside with the lid put on lightly. They then were lifted up to a crossbar adjacent to the nest. Once there, they secured the bucket to the cross member, pulled the lid off and backed away.
And what happened next couldn’t have gone better: The hawk hopped out of the bucket and back into its nest.
The crew then quickly left, very pleased with the outcome.
“If we had just put the bird in the bucket, it would have probably panicked or tried to fly away again,” said Ward, of the process that took about 15 minutes. “But we put it in the bucket and turned it sideward and re-tied it to the steel tower and slowly opened the lid and backed away, allowing it to come out and hop back in the nest.
“It went just as planned.”
Williams agreed, saying, “From a personal perspective, it was very cool to see. The mother became alarmed and stood up on the cross rail and made that unmistakable hawk noise. And we opted to leave quickly. The whole idea was to minimally disturb the nest and the birds.”
Donohue, who works in SCE’s avian protection program and advises field crews on protecting birds in the utility’s service territory, was perhaps the most pleased, saying, “The best option is to get [the hawk] back up in the nest or at the least off the ground and try and perch it in the tower or nearby vegetation so no ground predators can get to it.
“The best thing for them is to be raised by their parents and so if we can put them out of harm’s way, it's better than taking them to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.”