Monday, October 10, 2016

Welcome to Northfield, VINS' newest educator!

By Lauren Adams
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Northfield” arrived at VINS on June 26th this year as a nestling hawk. She was found in Northfield Vermont, lying in the middle of the road with her wing drooped out to the side. A passerby recognized that the small broad-winged hawk needed help; she was possibly injured and definitely too young to fend for herself. He kindly scooped her up and transported her to VINS’ Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. 

Northfield was still too young to have left the nest when she got here, so she most likely fell from her nest due to unknown causes. Unfortunately, the fall resulted in an injury to her shoulder, which was evident by the dropping wing. Upon x-ray, we were able to see that the bird had a small fracture at the very top of her humerus bone, right below the shoulder joint. 

Previous experience tells us that this is a very difficult injury to heal back to full function of the wing. Broad-winged hawks migrate thousands of miles each year between their winter habitats in Central and South America and their breeding summertime regions as far north as central Canada.  Injuries very close to joints usually result in some limitations on the range of motion of the joint, and therefore impairment of proper functioning of the limb. Given the far distances that these birds have to fly, they need 100% use of their wings to be a healthy and thriving wild bird.

We started the little bird on a treatment of a wing wrap, to stabilize the injury until the fracture healed, pain medications, and a hand-feeding schedule until she was old enough to self-feed. At this point, we decided that, given the extremely low likelihood that this bird would fly capably enough for release back into the wild on her injured wing, we give her a permanent home here at VINS. Because she was a nestling bird, and being hand-fed by us, this presented the opportunity to purposefully imprint her onto humans. 

Usually we are very careful not to have young birds imprint onto us when we raise them for release.  This is because a wild bird needs to identify as their own species in order to behave and function well. Usually, baby raptors imprint onto their parents while they are in the nest, between about 2 and 6 weeks old. When a baby raptor is removed from their natural environment and hand-raised by humans, they are very likely to imprint onto the humans that are standing in for their own parents. An imprinted bird will not be afraid of humans and approach them begging for food. Being afraid of humans is a very important part of being a wild animal, so an imprinted bird is non-releasable back into the wild.

With Northfield, once we knew that she would not be releasable, imprinting was an important tool that we could use to incorporate her into our education program. We reversed our normal course of action with baby raptors and exposed her to human contact as much as possible. This allowed for her to grow up not being afraid of people, making her very calm around us, easier to train, and much more likely to be relaxed in front of large groups of people. 


Northfield has now reached her full adult size, although she will not get her adult plumage until next year.  She has cruised through her glove-training and is very comfortable with our educators.  We are thrilled to welcome her to the VINS family of education raptors. She is our first glove-trained Broad-winged hawk, although we do have three who live on permanent exhibit. With Northfield, we are able to enrich the education we offer to our visitors about raptors and migration. 


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