Thursday, July 24, 2014


That is the main diagnosis that apparently killed my bird, Wasp.

"Hydro" (excessive water) "pericardium" (lining of the heart cavity). This leads to a condition called tamponade. I learned that in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support). The heart of all animals, including hawks and humans, sits inside a protective sack, called the pericardium. If a disease process causes an increase in fluid inside this protective membrane, the heart cannot beat, cannot refill with blood, and the organism dies. This is what I witnessed myself on the morning of Saturday, July 12. Between the time I noticed there was a problem, and his death, about a half hour transpired. It was quick.

Two days prior to the events of Saturday morning, July 12, he appeared normal, and ate a good sized meal. Because of my work schedule, I did not look in on him on Friday, July 11, opting to feed him the following morning with training. Rich tells me he was heard inside his mew on Friday, squawking as he does. I have been slowly bringing Wasp back down to response weight, with the goal to do some summer hunting with him. Because he is a small hawk, flying at 570 grams, give or take just a little, he did not fly well in the very frigid winter we had this last year. I have held back his molt. I wanted to give him more experience on birds, and then hoped to fly him on young rabbits once the season for them opened.

I felt last year that the response weight of 570 grams seemed rather sharp for him, but that was the weight he had to be at for motivation. I had response from him, and now have been working to build up some muscle and stamina. My efforts have been stymied by the incredible hatchout of black flies and midges we have had this summer. This seems to be significant, for reading the necropsy report, this is highly likely what caused the hydropericardium.

On Saturday morning, as I entered his mew, he was quiet, which is unusual for this bird. Both he and Sassy are rather talkative. That is, Sassy is talkative, and I think she taught Wasp to be so as well. He was on his night roost, hunched over and looking very subdued, lethargic, and unconcerned about his surroundings. He has been particularly spooky as I've been reducing his weight, refusing to stay on my fist, refusing to come to me unless I have food. I cannot know if he has been ill for awhile, or if this was a sudden, acute situation. I couldn't ask him how he has been feeling, and he didn't inform me that he had chest pain, or an inability to breathe . . . which is the sensation tamponade would produce.

Upon lifting him off his perch, his feet went limp, which to my experience is a very bad thing. I had no idea what the problem could be, and questioned whether or not it could be very low condition, as I have been reducing his weight. I brought him into the house, and carefully gave him two droppers of a high sugar solution, making sure to deposit into the crop, and avoid the trachea. I then called the Raptor Center. I received voice mail, and left a message. Someone would call me back shortly, as there is someone in the clinic on weekend mornings, per the voicemail message. He would die on me before they called back. He did manage to free his foot from the towel binding him and grab my hand for one last squeeze. It was a goodly handshake . . . a final handshake. He died shortly after that.

When someone from the Raptor Center called me back I asked them about preserving the body for necropsy. I wanted to know WHY he died, as he had shown no signs prior to this day. I was advised to refrigerate, and not freeze. I wrapped him up in a smaller towel, and placed him in the refrigerator. I would not be able to submit his body for necropsy until Monday, two days away. It was a little weird the next couple days opening the refrigerator, and see those talons sticking out of the towel on the bottom shelf.

We are very fortunate here in Minnesota to have one of the pre-emminent raptor hospitals in the University of Minnesota. I have taken Sassy to the Raptor Center for surgery, as well as she and Hit Girl a couple years ago for health certificates prior to travel to a NAFA meet. Across the street from the Raptor Center is the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. For a fee of $95 they would chop Wasp all up and take a very close look at him to try to determine what agent or infection or condition caused his too premature death. It has taken 10 days, but I now have his report.

The report begins with a rundown of each anatomical system. Most indicated nothing of note. Overall, his mucous membranes were pale, which could mean anemia. His Body Condition Score was 2 out of 5, with 1 = emaciation/ 5= obese. I knew he was thin, but 570 grams had been his flight weight last year. The cardiovascular system indicated severe hydrothorax. His liver was enlarged and redish. His spleen was enlarged and marble in appearance.

Histopathology, or microscopic analysis of tissue biopsies, found evidence of a microorganism suggestive of Leucocytozoon in the liver (more on that later). It was also found in the spleen. There was also evidence of a microorganism called Haemoproteus in the liver. System-wide, he was found to have Escherichia coli, non-haemolytic.

The Diagnosis indicates: Hydropericardium (this is the first and major cause of death); Spleen - Splenitis, lymphoplasmacytic, diffuse, moderate and diffuse reticuloendothelial hyperplasia with splenomegaly; Liver - Hepatitis, lymphocytic and histiocytic, multifocal, moderate, and widely disseminated intrahepatocellular and intraendothelial Apicomplexa microorganism suggestive of Leucocytozoon and bacterial emboli, with hepatomegaly.

The veterinary diagnostician indicates cause of death is unclear. It is his opinion that the presence of the Leucocytozoon should not have caused the bird's death. He noted that the bird was underweight.

So . . . where does that leave me? At least I can know that it was not anything obvious that I had done to him. Yes, he was underweight, but I was using the same techniques that I have used on all of my birds, and none have ever died of starvation. The presence of the microorganism Leucocytozoon and Haemoproteus interested me to look into it. The vector for these parasites are: 1. Black Flies, and 2. Blood-sucking mosquitos and midges, in that order. Go figure!

Both Wasp and Sassy are kept inside a screen mew. I have not been giving them any weathering time due to the current abundance of these biting insects. However, Wasp has been out of his protective mew while getting training, and there is always the possibility some follow inside when I come and go into their mew. How do you protect against something that is ubiquitous? And, was Wasp's underlying condition so compromised that he was unable to deal with these infections, leading to an inflamed liver and spleen, and then hydropericardium.

I am discouraged and dissapointed in his loss, but don't think anything obvious was wrong with his care. I am a bit disgusted after all my efforts last year, and money, to acquire a second Harris Hawk to be a companion to Sassy, that I am left now only with an inconclusive death report.

Sometimes, having responsibility for these magnificent animals can be very painful . . . when your best efforts only result in loss.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


We have a new kitten.  I didn't plan it . . . these things just sometimes happen, especially with kittens.

I have been inside-housecat-free for quite some time, and I've actually been OK with that.  Cat boxes are just not fun to deal with . . . unless you buy a fancy, expensive one that is self scooping.  However, a couple weeks ago Rich and I were visiting his good friend Laurie, who he works with, and who we usually get together with on Wednesday evenings for 'Movie Night'.  She cooks, and she's a really good cook, and Rich brings movies . . . which can range between really good stuff, and some obscure, not so good sometimes.  I think we are getting the better end of this arrangement.

Anyway, Laurie lives in the country, and has a farmette, and too many cats, with more being dumped all the time at her place.  Right now there is an assortment of kittens of all sizes on her porch.  This little monster just struck my fancy, as she is just so goshawful cute!  We agreed to take her once she was old enough.
Upon arriving to our home, at a late 11:30 pm, she was given a bath, for she was not alone, having brought several hundred blood-sucking friends.  Between a bath, a blow dry, a couple nights of manual hand picking and vacuum rigged micro suction O2 tube tips, and dusting with diatomaceous earth, and isolation, and medicated drops on her shoulders, I believe we finally separated her from her uninvited guests.  She was kept isolated upstairs in a kennel until I was certain the fleas were gone.  Also, I needed to slowly introduce her to Monty.

Over the last week she has settled in well, and she is spending more time downstairs mingling with Monty.  For his part, at first, Monty wanted to eat her, and he still has times when he just gets over-excited by her, and a bit too rough when playing.  However she has learned all the small hiding places to evade him, and she has the typical cat savvy, even as young as she is.  Sometimes she just turns and ignores him, and walks away.  The novelty of her presence is also wearing off for Monty, so he doesn't get quite so excited all the time.  I think they are going to make good friends.  When she starts to play rough with me, biting, I just scrape her off at Monty, and he licks her thoroughly.  At this point in her life, she's about as snuggly as curling up with a tumble weed . . . all teeth and claws.  But when she gets tired, then she is a cute, fluffy kitten.
Monty can be a bit possessive of his food sometimes, but he has been a good boy when it comes to this silly little creature which likes to try his dinner sometimes.  I only let her taste his food after he has eaten, and if he leaves some scraps, but not too much as I'm still trying to get her digestion settled on some good food.
Rich has frequently picked up some of the farm cats and placed them up on his shoulder for some attention.  For whatever reason, kitties seem to be comfy there.  Ours settled right in, sensing that many cats have reclined in that location.  Monty frequently leaps up in his lap as well.  Here he is draped with our pets.
She's an adorable beast, that I had some trouble deciding what to name.  I tossed around several possibilities, with none really presenting themselves as perfect.  I've settled on 'Purza', which is taken from a book I read many years ago.  It will do, I guess.  After all, just like the hawks, she probably won't come to her name, so I could really address her as just about anything . . . it won't matter.  BTW, I didn't stage the picture above.  She jumped in the pot herself.  I just saw it and ran for the camera.  Kittens are terribly cute . . . that's how they find a home.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Justin's Baby

Rich and I visited Justin and his family this evening to meet his new baby.  It's no secret to those who know Justin that he wants to fly a goshawk.  He finished up his apprenticeship in 2013, and made a respectable dent in the rabbit and squirrel population in and around Winona this last winter with his red tail Chomps.  However, he has been bitten with the goshawk bug, and it has been his dream to fly one.  He tried to trap one last year, but between attempting to get his General Falconry status confirmed, and the poor migration we had last year, that didn't happen.  Then this year, he tried to find goshawk nests to pull an eyass for imprinting, but that didn't happen either.  As always with this impressive and lucky young man that I have had the pleasure to know, fortune shined upon him.  A falconer in Wisconsin made the decision to pass along this young bird, and Dave helped with getting the health certificate and transportation.  His family have named her Olivia, and she is quite adorable.  She still has all her young nestling innocence, and none of the killer mindset that will manifest all too soon.  Justin has his work cut out for himself, but he also has the guidance and advice of several Wisconsin falconers of distinction who have successfully trained and flown exceptional goshawks.  He'll do fine!
We also got to meet Lucy, his new Jack Russell Terrier puppy.  She is quite a cutie, and full of piss and vinegar as my mom would have said.  He's working with her, and she has her beginning obedience ongoing.  Although, when she was allowed to chase out some of their turkeys from under the coop she was rather loath to let the one go she had caught.  She'll make a fine hawking dog.  I threatened to leave Monty with them, as he had come along with us, but they nixed that idea immediately.  They had planned to just raise the puppy this summer, as Justin didn't get the goshawk in the spring.  However, with this stroke of fortune, now they have two baby animals in their home to raise and train.  Enjoy!
I do believe this is the first time I have ever held a goshawk.

Bunny Lover

Not too long ago I purchased the following decal for my car from another woman falconer off a Women Falconers page on Facebook.  I've wanted some kind of falconry decal for my car, and this one is just cool.

Well, yesterday, a Sunday morning for me, I was driving from my home to La Crosse to meet up with Sue for breakfast.  As I drove down the Interstate, it was just me, and another driver who I was quickly gaining on and would overtake and pass.  As I got closer, I noticed the other vehicle had a license plate as follows:  BUNNYLVR

I accelerated and passed them up quickly.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

What's going on Hawk Wise?

I have been intentionally managing Wasp to NOT bring on the molt.  For awhile, after winter, I free fed both of them, and it shows, as he put on quite a lot of weight for his size.  Sassy was placed on full-spectrum lighting for 14 hours a day, and her molt was kicked off nicely, and proceeds well.  She is halfway through her tail.

When Sassy is heavy, she gets MORE Sassy.  I don't handle her much at all, and just throw food at her.  When I leave her mew, she sometimes will hop onto the platform on the door, and strike through the bars to try to foot me.  If she was totally serious, she would come at me when I'm in the mew . . . and when I do go in I keep an eye on her, although usually I time this with giving food, so she is distracted.  I think she is mosly displaying a protectiveness of her space, and her nest, even if she hasn't laid any eggs yet.  This switch in her behavior disconcerted me when I first observed it, but now I know it is normal.  In the fall, when I get her weight down and get her back into hunting shape, she'll sweeten up to be my nice hunting partner again.

Wasp is a different story.  When he got heavy, he got SCARED.  I have been slowly bringing his weight down, and trying to reclaim his training.  It's been slow going.  My goal is to try to start flying him here in Summer to Late Summer, then Fall.  I'll manage him to go into molt when it starts to get really cold, as I won't be able to fly him then.  He has not been cooperating with my efforts, and he has been making me question my skills as a supposed 'Master' Falconer.  He almost refuses to sit on the glove, and I'm beginning to question whether I need to require him to do that at all.  He will come back to the glove for a tidbit, but doesn't want to stay there.  He may make me stretch my behavior-shaping muscles to get creative.  Mostly, I'd like to get him to where I could do some car hawking.  I did try 'water manning' on him, and it works real slick to eliminate the bating reflex, but then I wonder if he is learning anything as he stands there, in what appears to be shock, not doing anything but dripping.  I have been bringing him indoors to sit quietly and watch the household go on around him.  It seems to have helped, somewhat.

Well . . . challenge is what makes us better animal trainers.  It's also good for this animal (me) to try new things and to take into consideration new ideas.