Earth and Beyond host and producer Robin Song tells the story of Trigger Twigg’s goshawk rescue.
A snowstorm moved into Talkeetna over December twenty-first and second, blanketing the area with heavy, wet snow. On the morning of December thirtieth Trigger Twigg had just seen his wife, Margreth, and their daughter, Allegany, off down the trail from their cabin on the hill. Heading back, Trigger was looking at the snow load on the cabin roof when he heard a crack above and behind him. He turned to his right in time to see a large bird going down through the trees, knocking snow off branches as it went. It landed on the snow on its belly, wings spread. Trigger dashed on up the hill to the cabin to grab his gloves and snowshoes.
He headed back out, going southwest from the cabin, and found the bird still lying on the snow, about fifty yards from the cabin. As Trigger talked softly to it, the bird raised its head and looked at him. He moved his gloved hands gently down its body, and carefully picked it up. At no time did the bird struggle. He thought it was okay, so he set it back down on the snow. The bird picked itself up and flew, but it plummeted immediately into the snow again. Obviously the bird was not okay, and Trigger set about to help it. He headed towards it to pick it up again, but it struggled up and launched, crashing again into the snow, headfirst.
Trigger chased the bird in this fashion for about a mile over some rough country in the soggy snow. The hardest part was negotiating fallen logs buried in the snow. Even though the bird couldn’t fly normally, it could still keep just ahead of Trigger. Finally, down a hillside, he could see where the bird was heading next and he managed to get around in front of it and block it. The bird was tired, by then, and Trigger was finally able to get up to it before it could take off again. Still the bird did not struggle or fight as he gently picked it up from the snow. He carried it in front of him, his gloved fingers across its chest, thumbs over its back. Trigger chose a slightly easier route back, but it was still a slog on the snowshoes, up and down hills, struggling over logs, carrying the bird as carefully as he could.
Arriving back at the cabin, he placed the bird in an empty rabbit cage. Looking it up, he found it was a Goshawk. After leaving a voicemail on my phone, he then called his wife, who was in Wasilla. She picked up a couple of mice at Pet Zoo. After the hawk had time to rest and recover, it began acting more like the raptor of Goshawk reputation; striking at the cage bars when Trigger came close. These hawks are amongst the fiercest of the raptors, fearlessly driving almost any birds or mammals from their territories. They have been known to dive at humans jogging on city trails, who unknowingly come too close to their nests. That Trigger had been able to approach and pick up this hawk denoted that this bird may have been discombobulated, but why, was the question.
That night, after the bird had gone to roost, Margreth placed the little box, with its two mice, inside the hawks’ cage and retreated to leave the bird alone for the night. The next morning she went in to check on the bird. Trigger heard her yell and dashed in to see what was going on. They both stood staring at the sight before them. One of the mice was on the Goshawk’s back, gnawing on an open wound between its wings. The hawk was standing quietly, apparently unable to dislodge the rodent. (The second mouse never did come out of its box, as far as they knew.) Margreth grabbed her little digital camera and snapped a few photos, for proof of this unbelievable turn of events.
Trigger grabbed the mouse off the hawk’s back and placed it in the box with its buddy and removed them from the cage. By this time I had given him the phone number of the Wildbird Rehab Center in Houston. He’d left a voicemail with them the day before. He called again and this time was able to talk with a woman who works there. Margreth was able to take the hawk to the Center that day. They allowed her to observe the initial examination. No broken bones were detected. It was determined that the mouse had not caused the wound on the hawk’s back-it had already been there. The way Trigger had been carrying the hawk- with his fingers across the bird’s chest and his thumbs over it’s back- had closed the feathers over the wound, so he hadn’t seen it. The hawk needed to be kept for observation, and to have its wound cleaned. It was dehydrated and also needed food. Now under professional care, Margreth drove away feeling she had done all she could for the Goshawk.
I had talked with the Twiggs about the Goshawk, keeping up with its progress. I also called the Rehab Center and talked with Cheryl, who was taking care of the bird. She told me the bird was very possibly a female, and a young bird, still having a few juvenile feathers. The wound was surprisingly sharp-edged, and sliced cleanly into the bird’s back. It wasn’t from a bullet. She asked if the bird had been found close to a road. I described the area where the bird had been, which was fairly far from the only road. She pondered if someone could have possibly shot the hawk with an arrow. This seemed unlikely.
I asked if it’s illegal to shoot raptors. This is what I learned: according to Alaska Fish & Game, it is illegal to shoot raptors. However, you can defend your poultry, rabbits, etc. A much better strategy is to place a chicken-wire roof over your poultry yard. This will protect both your poultry and the raptors. Predators are opportunists and in winter, when prey can be scarce, they are especially attracted to an easy meal. Predators are a very necessary part of Nature, and need to be protected as a natural part of the Web of Life. When we move into their territories with our poultry and rabbits, of course they will be attracted. It’s up to us to protect both the predators and their prey. They need to be respected and appreciated for the wonderful creatures they are.
On January second I was out cleaning the corral when I happened to glance up at the sky. I saw a large bird approaching from the southeast. It was flying fast and low and as it drew near I caught my breath when I recognized it to be an adult Goshawk. It flew over me, swift, silent and magnificent. It soon disappeared into the forest in the northwest.
I called the Rehab Center again on February tenth to get an update on the Goshawk. They had surmised that the talon of another hawk had caused the wound. It could be that this young bird had come into the territory of an adult and had come out on the bad end of a clash. Trigger may have seen the bird just after it had been attacked when it was stunned and possibly in mild shock. The wound was much smaller, still healing, and needing to be cleaned daily. The bird was eating well. The Goshawk had been moved to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, where they have more volunteers to help with birds like this one which need more intensive care. While the Center’s workers are cautious about projecting an outcome with any bird, as so many things can still go wrong during its recovery, they are hopeful that this hawk will continue to progress. In a few more weeks, after new feathers have grown in and covered the wound site, the Goshawk will be taken to the Flight Center on Elmendorf Base so it can begin to regain its flight muscles. Depending on its progress, in a couple of months the Goshawk could be ready to release back to the wild.
The objective is to release raptors back where they were found so they may return to their home territories. Hopefully the Twiggs will get to release the Goshawk themselves, which would be a fitting end to this story. I plan to be there as photographer, to record this beautiful bird regaining its freedom. If this happens, I will keep the public apprised. So many people have been involved in the recovery of this young raptor. I can only hope that all their efforts will be richly rewarded with a successful release.
By Robin Song