DAVENPORT — Lucky, the adult male red-tailed hawk who was rescued from Interstate 88 last week after being struck by an SUV, was released back into the wild Monday, Feb. 22, with a clean bill of health.
The bird was rehabilitated by licensed master falconer Charlie Koop and his wife, Dorie, at their Pittsfield home and brought to Robert V. Riddell State Park for a reunion with its rescuers before taking off.
“I’m happy he was OK and I hope he stays away from the highway!” said Goodyear Lake resident Maureen Richter, who rescued Lucky from the roadside last week. “I’m so thankful he was able to get help from all the right people.”
Richter was driving west on Interstate 88 in Oneonta when she watched as the hawk swooped into traffic and was struck by an oncoming SUV. She said she immediately pulled over, called 911 and scooped the injured bird up in a Christmas sweater she had in her car.
First to arrive at the scene was Otsego County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Koren Jr., who was joined by Department of Environmental Conservation Officer Tim Card and Sgt. Michael Stalter, a fellow deputy and licensed general falconer.
Stalter brought the injured bird to the Koops’ home, where it was determined that Lucky suffered only a minor concussion, with no broken bones or damaged wings.
Koop said he diagnosed the concussion based on the slight trickle of blood coming from the bird’s and the flopping of his tongue to one side of his beak.
Koop, who has been working with birds of prey since 2005, said he gave Lucky “a few days’ R and R,” making sure his range of motion was limited as he healed from his injury.
The hawk was returned to the wild in time for mating season, which typically lasts from late February through March, with the first egg laid between mid-March and early April.
“Based on his coloring, this was a very mature bird, so he probably had a mate out there waiting for him,” Koop said, noting that red-tailed hawks typically mate for life.
Extremely trainable, red-tailed hawks are favored by falconers for their more social disposition than other birds of prey, Koop said. The hawks can be trained to hunt small mammals, including rabbits and squirrels.
Red-tailed hawks number about 1 million in the United States, and their population has increased dramatically since the 1960s, Koop said.
“In the ‘70s, there were probably only about 5,000 red-tailed hawks total,” Koop said. “Now, there’s probably more than that in the state of New York.”
Falconers were asked to give up their trained and tamed birds in the 1970s because the natural population was so endangered, Koop said, but falconers are currently permitted and encouraged to work with passage hawks — those less than a year old, but mature enough to leave the nest — because the young birds have not yet developed the adult behaviors that might make them difficult to train and are not yet occupied with breeding or rearing their young.
Of all his work rehabilitating raptors and other birds of prey, Koop said, “the most enjoyment is to be able to send them back into the wild.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.