March 15, 2019 – It was a somber day for me on December 4, 2018. My Harris’ hawk, Sundance, escaped from his mew at 11:00 am on December 4, 2018. Sundance is a falconry bird that was retired six years ago by a falconer in the Stockton area. Sundance is on my state and federal permit for educational presentation purposes. At the time, he only had his anklets and federal band on, thank goodness. If he had had all of his falconry equipment on, he most likely would not have survived on his nineteen-day excursion.
The falconer was downsizing and asked me if I wanted his male Harris’ hawk for my educational presentations. I responded, “How soon can I meet with you?” Harris’ hawks only live in the Southwest United States. I find them very interesting as they stay together as a family all year long, which is not common for raptors, like a pack of wolves with feathers. Sundance has been with me ever since living in a mew on my property. The day he escaped, I was cleaning his mew with the hose tucked under the corner of the security door. Sundance takes great advantage of his mew cleaning time, spending as much time as he can under the water spray of the hose. The latch was clipped, but with the hose bending the lower corner of the security door, it made his escape easy and my fault. As I was filling his bath, he flew over my head as usual and into the security area, usually making a U-turn and back onto his favorite perch in the mew. This time he didn’t make that U-turn.
I heard him land on the door screen. When I looked over towards him, his left foot was on the door latch. At that very second, the latch popped open. Sundance is hanging onto the door as it was opening ever so slowly. I put my fist out and tapped it, hoping he would hop onto it as he would have any other time. But this time, he had other plans. Sundance looked at me, looked at the oak tree nearby, back at me, and off he went to my deck railing and then the oak tree. He gave me a couple of happy tail flips and off on his adventure. He did return a few times that day, flying over my house, watching me try to lure him in with a mouse on the glove. Not interested. Many of my friends posted news about Sundance and asking people to watch for him – a big brown hawk, cayenne-colored feathers on top of his wings, and a large white patch at the base of the tail with white on tips of tail feathers. Over the next nineteen days, I went on 23 calls of possible sightings of Sundance.
No luck. On December 22, 2018, I was on call and returned a call to a lady that lived at the end of Squirrel Creek Road in GV. She was wondering what kind of hawk was in her yard that she had never seen before. It was jumping into her compost pile and eating lettuce. I explained that hawks don’t eat lettuce but that he most likely ate the mice and rats that eat from compost piles. I asked her to describe the hawk. Usually, they turn out to be a red-shouldered hawk or red-tailed hawk on these types of calls. However, the lady was curious enough to Google the hawk she was seeing in her yard. When she said she could not remember the species of the hawk but the hawk she saw only lived in the Southwest United States . . . And it had something on its legs. My next question was, “What is your address? Be right there. It is my missing hawk.”
I grabbed one glove, a frozen rat, and a falconer’s trap just in case. Arriving at the location, the lady pointed out the hawk in a tree about 35 yards away. It had its back to me with one foot curled up, getting ready for the evening roost. I held out the rat and called his name. The second he heard his name, he turned with wings out, left the branch, and flew directly at my eye to eye. I did not care where he landed on me. I would have him back! Sundance grabbed the rat with such power from my hand. I lost grip, and he took it to the ground. I picked him up and wanted to kiss him, but that is not always a good idea with a hawk that wants to feed. One of the happiest days of my life!! Sundance had gained 70 grams while on his excursion. So he was successfully hunting. No predators had taken him. He was in excellent condition. His falconry days saved his life.
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