It is a common practice in falconry to release the bird you have been hunting with all winter in the Spring, to allow it to return to the wild. At some point I do want to keep a bird for a few seasons, but not this bird. We had a rocky start, due to her health issues, which may have contributed to her being a rather mellow bird, on the fist. Some people may think this would be a good thing, but to my mind, CC was not as aggressive in the field as I would like. She missed many easy slips. Add to this the fact that I don't have enough food in the freezer to feed three birds. Also, I hope to have a new, large mew built this summer. It would just be easier all around to give her freedom back, and let her look after herself. After all, she was doing good when she was trapped this past fall. The snow is gone now, hopefully for good, so she should be able to find mice in the many fields around my home, and we also have lots of squirrels, which she did prove to me she was capable of hunting.
I released her on Tuesday, the last day of March. I had been giving her good meals to build up a little reserve, and finished with a crop-full on the day of release. After seeing her fly off, I went into the house to do other things. That evening, I found that she had simply flown behind the house and into the trees in the field in my pasture. The following morning while I was walking the dog prior to work, I did not see her anywhere near where she had been the previous evening. The day after that, Thursday, I did a lure call just to see if she was in the area. I got no response. I expected that she was now truly gone.
On Wednesday afternoon of this week, a full eight days after release, I spotted a large brown bird in the distance, down the road, flying away, with a little bird in pursuit. It was too far to know, but probably a starling or grackle or more likely a red-winged blackbird, which recently have arrived for the spring. It's what they do! Chase and harass hawks, especially young ones. The hawk looked rather brownish overall, with no red tail. I looked like a juvie! I wondered if it might be CC.
I quickly got my guntlet and whistle and lure. I didn't want to drag any food along, in case it wasn't her. Also, I felt this was rather a long-shot, as I've never had any of my birds that I have released stick around, or be seen again. But it was worth a try. I walked up the road to a high spot, whistled and swung the lure. Off to my left I noticed movement. Upon turning and looking up in the tree, she was there. She did not respond right away, and did not come down, but she did look at me. I turned and walked back home. Like all our hunting trips, she followed along.
Back home, I ran inside my Hawk Shack and plucked out a fat live mouse from the breeding tank. Back out in the lawn, I tried to call her to the fist, but again, she was having none of that. However, as soon as I dropped the mouse and backed off, she came in and made a quick meal out of my gift. As she ate, she let me get close to her, and after eating, hopped up to the fist.
She looks like she is doing OK. Her weight felt good on my fist, although I did not reach up and pinch her keel. as she was not restrained in any way, and I also did not think to get my scale to see what her weight looked like. She seemed calm, and not crazy hungry. After a couple quick pictures by my husband, I tossed her back to the trees. I then went and cut her a larger bit of food from what I was thawing for my other two birds. Below is the video of that food gift.
Again, she is not coming to the fist, but if the food is on the ground and I step back, she will come in to take what is offered. After the second meal, she again jumped to the fist. Her feet looked good, possibly a bit cleaner than when I let her go. It has been raining a lot lately, so she's been getting Nature's Bath. She left my fist to land on my grape arbor, and after some feaking, flew up into the trees. I did see her again a little later sitting in the clump of trees in the cemetery across the street from me.
It is possible she may stay in the area. I have not seen any resident hawks this year. In the last two years I did find one bird down the street that appeared to be dead from electrocution (found under a very nasty looking power pole), and another bird I came across while walking in one of the fields, just dead . . . unsure of why, but had some runny mutes. I left both birds where found to decompose naturally. It is possible there are no residents here at this time, so she is not getting chased out. It is a good area, and would make a good territory. There are quite a few grassy fields which surely have lots of mice, and many trees with confirmed squirrels. We hunted one of those fields this previous winter, so it should be a little familiar to her. Perhaps she will stick around. I'll keep an eye out for her.