Warren Gerds/Extra! Family, Wildlife Sanctuary give injured hawk a chance to survive


PHOTO: A red-tailed hawk named Mission is photographed prior to its release Tuesday in a back yard in Allouez. Warren Gerds photo

ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WFRV) – A hawk flew up into a huge tree in a back yard this morning, Tuesday, June 10. The bird was home again after almost three months.

Samantha Micoliczyk tried not to cry.

From a kitchen window, she had seen the red-tailed hawk topple out of a mighty maple in mid-March. Lying on the ground, the normally tough bird was clearly in peril.

Samantha Micoliczyk and her husband, Chad, weren’t sure what to do at first. What they did led to the rescue, recovery and release of the female hawk that along the way acquired the name of Mission.

Chad and Samantha Micoliczyk live on Mission Road with their sons, Porter, 5, and Oliver, 2. They are my next-door neighbors.

It was a powerful scene when Mission lifted off from the hands of Lori Bankson of the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and arced across a few adjoining yards, flew up into tree and perched just like it was supposed to.

“It was such a great moment,” Samantha Micoliczyk said. “It was very cool. And very cool that the boys could see it, too, just because we’ve been talking about the bird since we found her.”

Let’s flash back a few times.

First, it’s a few months ago and Chad and Samantha Micoliczyk are explaining what happened on a recent Tuesday.

Samantha Micoliczyk: “We were just eating breakfast, and I just happened to look out the window and saw a huge – I didn’t know what it was at the time – bird falling slowly out of a tree, kind of like it was doing a cartwheel down the tree in slow motion. As it was falling, I saw Bailey (the family dog, a lab) running, and I ran out there in my robe. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t want Bailey to try to touch it. Bailey went up to it, and the hair stood up on his back, and he backed up. It was like she was no match for him. The hawk lying on its back. It had its eyes closed at first. But when got up close, it sat up and its feathers went out and looked at me. It was so big with its wings outspread. When I first went out there, I thought it was an owl because its feathers were all up and it looked so big. It was obviously scared, and its eyes were like this (wide open). And its talons were out.”

Chad Micoliczyk: “The talons had to be at least 2½ inches long.”

So there the Micoliczyks were – a live and seriously injured hawk in their back yard, where their kids play and their dog does his thing. What to do?

Chad Micoliczyk: “I called the Wildlife Sanctuary first, and they gave me the number of the animal control person. He actually lives in our neighborhood. He came over here, and we walked to the back. The hawk was still alive. It had a little blood coming out of its beak.”

Samantha Micoliczyk: “And there were crows all around.”
Chad Micoliczyk: “They were swarming.”

Samantha Micoliczyk: “We thought maybe the hawk got into a fight with them. They were all over, just squawking nonstop. Before the animal control man got here, we kept checking on the hawk because it was starting to look lifeless. It wasn’t moving. But every time we went out there, it would turn and look at us.”

Chad Micoliczyk: “When the animal control man got here, he brought out a cage that looked like a cat carrier. He took pictures of the hawk. When we walked up to the bird, it looked like it was almost dead. When he went to put the hawk in the cage and the talons came out, he put his gloves on. He took what looked like a butterfly pole and helped the hawk into the cage. It was pretty cool, actually. The hawk opened her eyes, and the guy said they were clear. Then he took her to the Wildlife Sanctuary.”

A week or so later, the Micoliczyks went on a family outing to Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary on Green Bay’s east side near the shore of the bay of Green Bay. They asked after the hawk. “We didn’t think we were going to have good news,” Samantha Micoliczyk said. But the hawk was alive. Indeed, about that time it picked up the nickname Mission.

Along the way, I visited Mission in a walk-in cage. It was feeding time. A mouse – dead – was placed in her line of sight. Mission flew a short distance, grabbed the mouse, ripped it apart and ate. Around that time, I phoned Lori Bankson, curator of animals at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.

What were the bird’s injuries?

Lori Bankson said, “We’re suspecting we had some sort of a head injury, some sort of internal bleeding because she did have some blood that was in her mouth. It was something that really knocked her for a loop. Definitely some head injury. We couldn’t find anything skeletal injuries. We couldn’t find any soft tissue damage. She had some bruising that slowed her down for a few days, but it looks like she’s on the road to recovery from all of those injuries.”

The plan was to move Mission a flight cage to test her to make sure she was flying well and having no other problems.

Lori Bankson said, “We make sure she is able to not only make the laps of flying long lengths but also that she is hitting her landings and her takeoffs look good. We’re going to make sure she can find food in different areas, be able to spot that, rip up prey and eat that well. We make sure that she is fit, not only strength wise but also cardiovascular wise. We watch her pulse and respiration. So we give her some flight training, flight time, and make sure that she’s going to be ready for when she’s released.”

The plan was to release Mission in the area where she was picked up.

Lori Bankson said, “This is the time of year that birds of prey have paired up, looking for nest sites, beginning that spring ritual. We want to make sure that we get her, as we do with most adults, back into the area that she’s most familiar with. The birds have a hunting ground, they have territory. She hasn’t been out of there too long, so we’re hoping that she can regain that territory and be successful once again.”

I wondered whether the rough winter was a factor in something having happened to Mission.

Lori Bankson said, “It’s been such an interesting winter. We’ve been noticing the birds of prey having a hard time finding food, finding that visible food with so much snow cover. Sometimes these guys are getting a little bit weak or getting the right gust of wind. This red tail came in at a pretty decent weight, but we made sure to put a little bit more weight on her as she was recovering so she didn’t have to worry about those calories, kind of build them back up.”

The neighborhood where Mission was picked up is residential, with many houses right next to each other, one after the other, in all directions. Large trees of many varieties grow in yards, but you would not think of the neighborhood as wild – except for sightings of deer, turkeys, skunks, possums, hawks and ducks, some of which nested the last two years.

Lori Bankson said, “It’s just amazing how wildlife is adapting so well to these urban areas – and busy areas. I’m always fascinated by hearing stories like that because it just shows how this human-animal interaction is evolving so much. I talk with other staffers about it, too. Just 15 years ago, we were getting in 2,000-3,000 animals every year at the sanctuary and thought that was huge. This past year, we got in nearly 5,200 animals. Is it that people are more aware of the animals? Is it that people are outside more? Is it that we are just interacting more? So it is always fascinating to hear these different things and how things are evolving in the area.”

Flashing forward to release day, Mission has recovered and is driven to her namesake road. The gathering in the Micoliczyk back yard includes Lori Bankson and senior animal keeper Matt Rupnik to explain Mission’s recovery. Also observing – because releases are exciting events – are interns Sarah Kulas of St. Norbert College, a native of Wittenberg; Carrie Durrwachter of Penn State University, a native of Cogan Station, Pa.; and Allison Parker of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who lives in the neighborhood of the release and has brought along her brother, Ben Parker, to soak in the experience.

Lori Bankson donned thick leather gloves to handle Mission, carefully removing the bird from a carrying cage. She showed the bird around, making sure the Micoliczyk family got a good look.

A back yard release “is a rare occasion,” Lori Bankson said. “It is very important with the Wildlife Sanctuary that animals that are brought in as adults, that have a set territory, a set home, that we get them back where they belong. That’s always a goal of ours.”

When Lori Bankson moved to a spot in the yard where there was enough room for Mission to take off, she spoke as if what would happen was a sure thing. She admitted later it was a nervous moment.

Lori Bankson said, “You never know. Even though you’ve conditioned them, you’ve worked with them, you’ve done everything possible – you do the morning check, the morning weight, everything is right on cue – there’s always that chance. So it’s just a relief as well when you let ’em go back into the wild, and you see them fly beautifully – everything they’re supposed to do. But yeah, you get a little bit nervous right before the event.”

There’s a thrill when everything falls into place.

Lori Bankson said, “When you can see that process from beginning to end – they come in and you see how run down, how injured they are – and then you can get them back out into the wild, it really is one of the most amazing feelings. To see that entire process work and to be triumphant and work together with the community so you can all achieve that goal is pretty great.”

Given the condition Mission was in when she came to the Wildlife Sanctuary, “she probably had a 50-50 chance for release,” Lori Bankson said.

The name Mission became symbolic.

Lori Bankson said, “We give a reference number to every animal. But sometimes it’s not as easy when you really get to know a bird and get to work with a bird, saying ‘14R16.’ That doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily. When we were talking with people, we called her the Mission Road bird. We said, ‘Why don’t we name her Mission? That’s where she’s from.’ And then we were talking again. We were like, ‘That’s our mission – to get her out.’ She came at a time at the sanctuary where we were a little bit quiet, so we put a lot of energy and did a lot of work with her because we needed her to get back into the wild and be strong. And every time she hit another step, we were like, ‘We’re closer to the mission, get Mission back.’ So it was a lot of fun working with her. She was a very neat bird, a lot of personality.”

It’s possible Mission’s mate still is in the area where she fell.

Lori Bankson said, “It is because March is when they were starting to become territorial, ready to set up nests. Hopefully we didn’t miss too much of the nesting season. That was a goal as well – to get her out as soon as possible. But for her to be successful and even stick around the area and have a nest eventually, that’s always a triumph as well…

“Hawks are very visual birds, and they do recognize each other. She was calling this morning. She knew it was time. So you wonder if she was looking for him or who she was calling to.”

Even though where Mission was picked up is in the middle of a residential area, it’s still habitat.

“Exactly,” Lori Bankson said. “Green Bay is very lucky that we are still wildlife habitat, and the neighborhoods have been built that wildlife have adapted. And that’s when we’re lucky that neighbors and homeowners and landowners can let wildlife come in and out, let them have that space and live with them. That’s a very important piece to have a successful not only wildlife population but also a successful community – being able to work with wildlife and be together and observe them from a distance, help them when they needed it and give them that success that they need.”

The more wildlife in residential neighborhoods, the more phone calls to the Wildlife Sanctuary.

Lori Bankson said, “We hit a spike once we hit March and April and May, but definitely the calls now are more numerous than they have been in the past. We can have a day where we’ll get anywhere from 20 to 50 calls. That can be voice mails and people calling just with questions like, ‘I’ve seen this. Can you identify this?’ Or, ‘I’ve found some baby squirrels in my yard. What do I do to help them?’ ‘What can I do to safely get these baby bunnies to you that my dog found?’ ‘I have a hawk that’s down. Who can I call to help me?’ We’re really happy that we’re able to work not only with our great staff and volunteers but also with animal control officers and members of the public, then talk with them so they take the proper safety precautions along with our DNR that we get these animals in that need to be brought in. Animals that can stay out in the wild can stay in the wild and get the care and the time and the rest that they need. It really is great that people know when they have a wildlife question they can talk to us, they can call us. We’re open every day of the year, and we can help them help wildlife. We take calls from all over the state of Wisconsin. We work with a lot of great different rehab facilities all over Wisconsin. We mainly cover Northeast Wisconsin, but we’ve gotten calls from Racine to Eau Claire to all the way up to Rhinelander. It’s very rewarding when we can help people if not bring the animal to us, bring the animal to another facility or another wildlife rehab that’s closer to them. We do whatever is best for that animal.”

The story for Mission ended happily. That is not always the case.

Lori Bankson said, “Sometimes if an animal comes in that is very severely injured, that is suffering, in a lot of pain, we consult with our veterinarian. Sometimes humane euthanasia is an option as something we can do. Sometimes they pass away no matter what our efforts are. We treat every case with that goal to get back out to the wild. We do everything that we can to help that animal, but we do take the animal’s suffering, the animal’s pain factor and what quality of life that animal would have into consideration with every case as well. But definitely every animal that comes through our doors we want to get back out into the wild.”

Many people face what the Micoliczyks faced in March. They looked up the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and phoned (920) 391-3685.

Samantha Micoliczyk said, “We didn’t really know how to handle the situation, and we called them first and they told us what to do, and it’s a great ending to the story.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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