A story of partnership between Geauga Park District, Lake Metroparks and the public
Geauga Park District Senior Naturalist Dan Best tells it best – how a Species of Special Concern got a little help from its friends this summer:
Stepping in and Helping out
On June 22, visitors to Swine Creek Reservation flagged down Geauga Park District Ranger Dennis Sloan and reported finding a ‘baby owl’ along the trail behind the lodge. The ranger retrieved the downy nestling and duly delivered the youngster – all feet and fuzz – to Lake Metroparks’ Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center at Penitentiary Glen Reservation in Kirtland.
The baby ‘owl’ turned out to be a young Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest of the accipiter family that includes the Coopers Hawk and Northern Goshawk. Sharp-shins occur locally as fairly common migrants and somewhat uncommon winter residents that, as bird predators, ply their trade among area bird feeders picking off less-way clientele. Nonetheless, as breeding birds in Ohio, Sharp-shinneds are fairly rare and officially classified as a Species of Special Concern. As a bird
of prey, they are fully protected by state and federal law.
As little sharpie was a young nestling, much too young to fledge, the first step prescribed by the Wildlife Center staff was to locate the nest in order to reunite it with its family. The next day, I searched the woods in the vicinity of the lodge and located a small hawk nest about 60 feet up in a red oak just outside a dense stand of spruce trees behind the lodge, conifers being the preferred habitat of Sharp-shinned Hawks. The nest appeared devoid of occupants, however, and over a two hour period no hawks were seen or heard in the vicinity – vanished without a trace, save this little babe on the ground about 50 feet from the nest tree. I suspect marauding crows raided the nest and carried off the brood, perhaps dropping this chick, and parents abandoned the area unaware of its fate.
Raised in captivity
With these findings – or rather, lack thereof – reported back to the Wildlife Center, its skilled staff undertook captive rearing of the young hawk. As it turned out, another young Sharp-shinned Hawk was rescued by grounds crew on the 17th green of Legend Lake Golf Club in Munson Township, near – you guessed it – a grove of spruce and pine trees. It was quite likely a survivor of a similar crow raid. Together, the adoptive siblings advanced through their artificial upbringing with their surrogate parents taking careful measures to avoid imprinting the youngsters on humans. Though bonded to each other, as they apparently did, would be beneficial, not so to humans. To have a chance to succeed in the wild meant that they must be raised as wildlings.
Their diet progressed from having mouse entrails fed to them to feeding themselves whole mice, as their quarters moved from incubator to small cage to large cage, where flight muscles were toned in preparation for release.
Back in the Wild
By August, the time had come for the taloned teens to rejoin the wild. On August 5, Ruth Kirchhausen of the Wildlife Center opened the cage doors on the 17th green of Legend Lakes Golf Club. Not surprisingly, they headed straight for the welcoming cover of conifers, where a last meal was left to aid their transition. They’ll now have the rest of the summer and autumn to hone their hunting skills, as ahead lays a ruthless test for survival: the coming of their first winter. Thanks to their rescuers and caregivers, at least they’ll face this trial on even footing with their wild-raised counterparts.
“This episode highlights the dedicated efforts of Lake Metroparks and Geauga Park District staff in their shared mission to conserve, preserve and protect our natural heritage for the public. It also underscores the essential role of the caring citizens that made this rescue effort possible, as well as the key role a concerned public plays in conservation successes.”