I'm sorry to announce that the Great Black Hawk was euthanisedyesterday.
All the cells of his legs was dead and nothing can be done to heal him (it was a male)
RIP little guy !
Great Black Hawk - 1/31
Yesterday, our senior staff met onsite with two additional veterinarians as well as two wildlife biologists from the Bird Group of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Diagnostic tests that included infrared thermography and doppler ultrasound revealed no circulation at all in the feet or lower legs up to where leg feathers can be seen in the photo posted 1/28. Underneath the bandages, both feet were discolored and beginning to decompose. As of yesterday, the bird was lying down during the day, not just overnight, and was not eating as well as previously.
Frostbite is well known for its insidious progression. When the body’s cells freeze, they expand, burst, and then die. Cells that form skin, muscles, nerves, tendons, and blood vessels are all affected, and once those cells die, they cannot be brought back to life. The goal of frostbite treatment is to limit further tissue death, though the success or failure of those efforts may not be apparent for several weeks or even months. Based on how rapidly the hawk’s feet deteriorated, we suspect that the initial frostbite damage occurred well before the bird was found on the ground on January 20, when frozen feet and associated pain had likely resulted in an inability to perch. Although he may not have appeared to be in distress in the few days prior to his rescue, any injured wild animal will hide discomfort until unable to compensate.
Our treatment efforts followed the most up-to-date protocols in human and veterinary medicine. Sadly, however, because foot and leg tissues had already been irreparably damaged, those efforts came too late. For those of you who have asked, our treatment plan included topical applications to enhance skin viability, plus a suite of medications to control pain and promote blood flow to extremities: western/conventional drugs, herbal formulations, and homeopathic remedies. We also used low level (“cold”) laser treatments.
Of course, we had hoped that the frostbite damage would be minor and that the bird might be releasable. Once the extent of the damage became obvious, possibilities for prosthetics use and captive placement were discussed at length. In this bird’s case, neither option was realistic. First of all, the damage was too extensive: both legs as well as both feet had been damaged. Secondly, animals that adapt best to prosthetics are not only less severely affected, but they are also of calm temperament, comfortable around people, and used to being handled. None of us could even remotely imagine a reasonable quality of life for a wild bird having two artificial legs that would need frequent adjustment, and that would likely never be completely comfortable. Related hawk species present in North America are known for their high-strung, hyperactive temperaments, and this bird has been no exception to that general rule. During the hawk’s stay here, we often had to turn off the cage lights to discourage challenges to the cage walls. The wildlife professionals who met yesterday all agreed that the Great Black Hawk would never successfully adapt to captivity, especially without even one foot that could be used in a natural way to perch, grasp food, or land successfully after flight.
The decision to euthanize was completely unanimous among all who gathered here yesterday, though that decision was tinged with regret, sorrow, even heartbreak. It was seen by some of us as an end of suffering, and by others as the release of a spirit from its hopelessly damaged shell. Either way, all of us believed it was the only course of action that was fair to the hawk.
Although greatly saddened that this beautiful hawk could not be saved, we take some comfort in knowing that she or he touched a great many lives, bringing people together and inspiring a greater interest in the natural world. Although this was an extreme case of species displacement, with changing climate and increasing destruction of natural habitats, it is likely that we will see more and more animals dispersing from their homelands into territory they are not well adapted to. A decision as to what will happen to the remains has not been made, though several scientific institutions are under consideration. Genetic studies may finally reveal the original home of this remarkable visitor to Maine.
All of us at Avian Haven extend our profound appreciation to all of you for the good wishes, prayers, love, and support that have poured in during this remarkable bird’s stay here. We intend to dedicate your donations toward funding a special project that will enhance our ability to care for future birds, whether or not they are frostbite victims. For us, and for many of you as well, today will be a day of grieving, but also of imagining this extraordinary Great Black Hawk flying free again in some realm other than our own.
Diane Winn, Executive Director
Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center