Wayward hawk to become museum specimen

Great Black Hawk
Juvenile Great Black Hawk in Maine, August 2018. Photo by Knut Hansen

The remarkable story of the Great Black Hawk that was seen in Texas last April and later flew to Portland, Maine, came to a sad end in January when the bird was euthanized due to severe frostbite on its legs. At least, it seemed that would be the end of the story.

Yesterday, Maine’s raptor biologist Erynn Carr said that the bird will be mounted and displayed at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Carr told the Portland Press Herald that the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife decided to display the large hawk, which is native to Central and South America. The goal is to educate museum visitors about vagrant birds — that they wind up off course and end up far from their usual habitats.

The young hawk — only the second of its species ever seen in the U.S. — was spotted briefly on South Padre Island, Texas, on April 24, 2018. Then in August, a Great Black Hawk showed up in Biddeford, Maine, and within days, birders determined that it was the same bird that had been seen in Texas.

In late October, the hawk was spotted in a coastal park in Portland, and then a month later, it was found about two miles south, at Deering Oaks Park, a 55-acre public park with a baseball diamond, a pond, and green spaces. The bird remained in the park until January 20, when a local falconer found it on the ground during a snowstorm. She contacted Avian Haven, a wild-bird rehab center in Freedom, and the bird was transported there.

The Avian Haven staff took care of the hawk, but after about 10 days, it was determined that the frostbite on its legs was so severe that it wouldn’t have been able to perch or capture prey. Executive Director Diane Winn explained in a January 31 Facebook post that her center’s senior staff met with two additional veterinarians as well as two wildlife biologists from the Bird Group of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and ultimately decided to euthanize the hawk.

“The decision to euthanize was completely unanimous among all who gathered here,” she wrote, “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.”

View photos of vagrant birds in our Rarities Gallery

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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