Lead Poisoned Red-tailed Hawk Released and Reunited with Mate

On December 31, 2015 Chris Kaleta turned into her driveway and spotted something brown in the grass. She got out of her car to get a closer look and found an immobile and sick looking Red-tailed Hawk on the ground. Chris ran inside to get her husband, Gary, and both approached the bird, even reaching down to find that, despite the cold temperatures outside, he was still warm.

Red-tailed Hawk recovering from lead poisoning.

The Kaletas spent their New Year’s Eve caring for the hawk and ensuring his safety. They wrapped him in a warm blanket and placed him in a dog kennel in their den where he could spend the night without freezing to death or being eaten by a predator. Within a few hours of warming up inside, the bird was already more active, but still not in good shape. On New Year’s Day, Chris and Gary brought the Red-tailed Hawk into Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center, a facility that stays open 365 days a year. He was our very first intake of 2016.

Deb Sheaffer, the staff veterinarian, saw that the Red-tailed Hawk was weak and couldn’t stand up, but she also noted that he was clearly aware of his surroundings. Immediately, Deb tested for lead, a standard practice for raptors, and gave the bird an X-ray to help diagnose the problem.

“We check all hawks for lead because of cases like this one when we might not suspect lead poisoning,” explained Deb. “If we can find out early that that’s happening, then we can treat them appropriately.”

The Red-tailed Hawk did indeed have lead poisoning, something that’s sadly all too common with raptors, vultures, crows and ravens. Why are these specific species vulnerable? They all scavenge off of hunter-killed carcasses, animals that may contain lead ammunition. The birds ingest the lead bullets while feeding on the carcass and then become sick, in many cases leading to death.

Thankfully, the Kaletas did find this particular raptor in time. Deb gave the bird fluid therapy, supportive care, and heat. Within a few days, he was already showing great signs of improvement. The WCC checked his lead levels every ten days until it had reduced enough for a release.

The Hawk was moved to one of our large flight cages to ensure he looked healthy in flight and to exercise his wings. Then, on February 13, 2016, Deb returned to the Kaletas home to release the bird back in his territory, hopefully, to find his mate.

Volunteer veterinarian draws blood from Red-tailed Hawk to test for lead poisoning.

Chris told us, “In those six weeks his mate called every day. The last call I heard from her was about an hour and a half ago. She still is looking for him and now he’s home.”

We spoke to Chris again after the release, checking in to see if the female did eventually find her mate. It turns out, it didn’t take long. The two hawks were back together that very same day, reunited after six weeks apart. As Chris noted, it was the day before her wedding anniversary, and it was Valentine’s Day weekend. A wonderful ending for a Red-tailed Hawk who could easily have died if he wasn’t found.


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Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.