There are many things I expect to see when I walk out onto my Dollar Lake Dock. I am usually content with the verdant green vista offered by Lily pads, Green Darners, and Green Frogs. I always anticipate something out of the norm, however, and this is what drives my repeated mini-ventures to the end of the crooked pier. This past weekend a splash and movement of brown caught my immediate attention and I anticipated that the local muskrat was making his rounds. When the subject displayed a fan of tail feathers it took a quick reassessment to conclude that I was looking down at a small hawk. The bird was floundering among the lily pads north of the dock. Spread winged and groping for support, it could not make any headway and appeared trapped and fatigued.
I grabbed a hand net, dragged my kayak to the water’s edge, and paddled out to the hapless raptor. The bird offered no resistance when I scooped it out. Rather than set it down on the boat’s bottom (between my legs, I might add) I opted to hold the net up with one hand and operate the kayak paddle with my other hand. Negotiating the thick vegetation cover, my efforts resembled those of a two-legged daddy longlegs and I felt for the struggles of the bird I now held captive. My wife was able to pull me in the final paddle length to the dock and the clumsy rescue was completed.
Apart from being very wet and exhausted, the hawk seemed to be un-injured. An occasional spurt of liquid issued out of its mouth, indicating that it had swallowed some water, but still I hoped for the best. A quick dry off, assisted by a blow dryer, restored the fluffy down feathers and the overall form of an immature Broad-winged Hawk emerged from the sodden mess. The only remaining thing for me to do was to set it down in the shade of a Red Maple and give it time to recover. Three hours later it was dead.
In a Disney world, this story would have ended with a full recovery and a tearful goodbye. Instead, I was merely witness to a real world fact of life -which is death. Nearly 80% of young raptors die within their first year of life. Few of us are present during nature’s grim reaping process and must take solace in seeing the lucky 20% fly overhead. Upon leaving the care of the adults, the youngsters are subject to a steep learning curve where they have to master the combined arts of hunting, flying and decision making. A small error can be fatal.
This Broad-wing was probably a product of a brood raised this past spring in the woodland on the opposite shore of the lake. These small bodied forest hawks frequent habitats near water and feed upon a wide range of prey. Amphibians and rodents make up a large part of their diet, but they will consume small birds and insects at will. It is my guess that it was a tasty green frog that lured our unfortunate youngster into the drink by my dock. The frogs typically slip out of the shallow water and sit upon the pads like so many garden ornaments. The field of lily pads is continuous in the zone within twenty feet from shore and it appears like a solid mat from above. Upon missing the mark, the hawk likely found itself ensnared in the greenery as each pad acted like a trap door.
The unfortunate bird probably would have been dead within the hour had I not arrived – sinking to the bottom and serving as food for countless bullheads and turtles. I merely delayed and shifted the final resting place to a patch of shaded ground where flies and raccoons will process the remains.