by Rich McIlhenny
As fate would have it, on Thursday, June 14, I got on the Schuylkill Expressway in Conshohocken, a road I normally avoid like the plague. Almost immediately I saw a car stopped about 40 feet in front of a Red-tailed Hawk that was standing on the shoulder of the road and appeared to be in distress, so I pulled over in between them.
The driver of the other car and I got out of our cars, and he told me that he was trying to call the Pennsylvania Game Commission. I told him not to bother, thinking they would probably put it out of its misery and that I had somewhere to take it that would try to nurse it back to health before releasing it.
We slowly approached the bird from behind which appeared to have a broken right leg. He lifted it up and looked down at it, puzzled as to why it wasn’t working like it should. Time froze as car after car rode by us. I marveled at how regal and majestic this beautiful bird was, while also looking desperate and vulnerable.
The gentleman, Morgan Thomas, and I backed away and tried to assess what we each had in our cars that could secure the hawk. He came back wearing a pair of gloves and holding a small towel. I put on a pair of gloves as well and pulled a Trader Joe’s shopping bag from my trunk, wondering if it was big enough for the bird.
We slowly approached the hawk again, and I was concerned that it was going to try and escape and stumble or fly into traffic and get hurt worse or killed. Mr. Thomas dropped the towel over him and picked him up, and the hawk didn’t struggle at all. After a few tries, we got him into the bag and tied the top, and I put him in my car.
After giving Mr. Thomas my business card to reach out to me for updates, I proceeded to drive three miles in heavy traffic to get off at Manayunk only to turn around and go six miles back in heavy traffic to get him to the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Rehab Center in King of Prussia. The whole way my gloved right hand was clutching the top of the bag on the seat of the car to keep it mostly closed, while not suffocating the poor thing.
I was terrified that he was going to force his way out of the bag and start flying around the car and dig his talons in my neck while I ran my car off the road. Luckily, he only moved around once in a while, which comforted me to know he was still alive, but he remained quiet and calm for most of the way.
When I finally got there, Michele Wellard, the Volunteer Assistant Director, took him out of the bag and after assessing him, determined that his leg wasn’t broken, but that he had head trauma and was probably hit by a car or flew into one while chasing prey. She also identified him as a one-year-old Red tail as he was proudly displaying his first two red feathers in his tail which were still very small, yet very stunning.
After I took some quick photos, they took him into the back, and I left a donation and got a form with a number identifying him so I could call in a couple of days to check on him.
Saturday, on our way from my son Daniel’s hockey game, I decided to pop in at the Rehab Center with him to see how the bird was doing. The director, Rick Schubert, told me that he was transported with three other Red tails to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, DE, because Philly Metro is in a temporary space and looking for a bigger property and can only handle smaller birds for now.
So when we got home, I called Tri-State and spoke to a nice woman named Julie who told me the hawk was doing well and should not have to stay too long and that he would be released back into the wild as soon as he recovered.
Then, on June 19 I received an email from Anita Moos, of the Tri-State Bird Center, who stated that the bird had recovered completely and had therefore been released into the wild. “Thank you for reaching out to us and for rescuing the beautiful hawk!” she wrote.
I am very relieved that Mr. Thomas and I were able to get this magnificent bird to a safe place and into the hands of the wonderful people who help injured wild animals.
Rich McIlhenny is a Realtor with Remax Services and a lifelong resident of Mt Airy. He says, “I dedicate this article to my father, Francis McIlhenny, who at the time of this writing is very ill. There are many who believe that hawks are messengers from the other side. Maybe the timing of this hawk appearing before me was no coincidence because my father’s nickname was The Hawk when he played for Penn AC in the winter basketball league down at Boat House Row. I love you, daddy.”