My wife Lois and I were teaching at the Warkworth primary school. One lunchtime in the summer a group of children came to the staff room to tell us that a large bird was sitting on the ground in the section next to the school. The children thought it must be sick. We picked up a rug and went to look. Sure enough the children were quite correct. There was a hawk sitting on the ground and when we went to it all it could do was try to flap away. It could not fly. We threw the rug over the bird and picked it up.

It was very, very light. The bird’s left foot was badly swollen and obviously infected. Lois took the bird straight to the vet. An X-ray of the damaged foot showed there were four shot gun pellets within the foot. Some of the bones were fractured. The vets decided the only possible cure was to give the bird antibiotic powder in an effort to combat the infection. They decided to leave the pellets in the foot. So we took the bird home and placed it in an aviary. We were told to cut a small pocket in a piece of meat and place the antibiotic powder in this. Sure enough the bird ate the meat and the antibiotics.

hawk1Hawks {Australasian Harriers] are  secretive bird. They have been known to abandon their nest if they suspect it has been located by humans. The female will lay three or four eggs over a week or so. What is unusual about this is that the female’s body is ready to begin to incubate the eggs at the time she lays her first egg. And so she sits from the time the first egg is laid. Bird eggs are incubated at around 40 degrees C. To cause the egg to begin to develop the area of the bird’s body that touches the egg has to receive an increased blood supply. This area is sometimes called the brood patch. And so with hawks the egg first laid hatches first. Therefore by the time the last chick hatches the first is over one week old.

Hawks have a feeding territory of around 15 to 20 square km. Government scientists made a close study of the hawks that live near a large lagoon in the Levin area. They were able to collect and analyse pellets that birds cough up when they are roosting at night. These pellets contain fragments of fur, bone and insect shells. Hawks have to eat roughage for their stomachs to function efficiently. From this analysis and other observation it was learned that hawks eat around 200 gm of food per day. Their favourite food is the hind leg of a rabbit. They eat road kill possums, along with fogs, mice and a variety of insects. They do not kill mammals bigger than mice. They will take the young of birds. Birds are afraid of hawks and the hawk is recognized instantly as it does not show a neck when flying. The head appears to jut out from the curved wings.

Our hawk gradually regained strength. We knew this when it began to fly in the aviary. Each few days we would search for fresh road kill. The hawk would feed on the hind leg swallowing some of the fur and then eating the meat. On several occasions I tried to pick the bird up and I usually regretted trying to as it would grip me with its good foot and the pressure of the claws was almost enough to break the skin on my hand. It was really difficult to remove four toes each with a large claw so we simply opened the door and threw in the food. By the end of two months the bird had regained strength. The damaged foot had lost all sign of infection but was misshapen. The bird held meat with its right foot and tore off pieces with its beak. We wondered  how it would survive in the wild.

One Saturday morning we decided to release the bird. It was a nice clear day in May. The hawk simply flew straight out of the open door and off into the sky. Then children started to tell us they had seen the hawk. It was readily distinguished as it was very dark and its left foot hung quite low. The bird was often seen flying in the vicinity of the main north highway. And then about two months later our neighbour’s children came over to say there was a large bird sitting on a fence post between their property and ours. We went out and to our great surprise it was our hawk.  We went inside got a rug and once again caught the bird. We were advised that the bird would probably have had difficulty in finding food through the winter months. It was suggested to us that we needed to keep the bird through until the spring and then release it when there were dead animals killed by traffic. So back in the shed went the hawk.

In the spring we released the bird. It was up to its normal weight . Once again it flew on a circuit over Warkworth. As time went on the bird moved its territory out to the farmlands east of Warkworth. For some 14 years we saw thee bird. It gradually became lighter in colour until it became silver. This 14 years is the estimated life span of a hawk. We were very sad when we realized we hadn’t seen the bird for a long time and assumed it must have died of old age.