Sunday, December 04, 2011

Blakeman on Violet's fate

Violet on November 26, 2011

John Blakeman, hawk expert from Ohio, wrote to Donna Browne [] with pessimistic thoughts about the future of Violet, the NYU red-tailed hawk recently in the public eye::

There is no hope for Violet. Absolutely nothing can be done to save, treat, or cure her debilitated foot. She's doomed. It is impossible for a hawk to live on only one leg. Sooner or later, the un-rested, always-stood-upon remaining foot will get bumblefoot, an infection and loss of tissue very similar to human bed sores. Once that begins, the hawk will die.
So far, bumblefoot hasn't set in, probably because she's able to spend some time in the air, allowing microcirculation in the foot. But in Dec and Jan, with 16 hours of cold nights, the leg will be stressed. The game will be over.
And nothing could be done to treat the dead foot if she is trapped. Bumblefoot and death would result, just as in the wild, but perhaps with a short delay.
The sad, biological truth is that Violet is doomed. My scenario is this. In a few weeks (or sooner), bumblefoot will set in. Violet will become sick and sedentary, and will fly off to an obscure building nook or cranny and die without human observation. She'll just disappear, unseen.
With that, a new floater female will fly in and in a week or less take up with Bobby. Pair bonding will occur. A new pair will take up reproduction at the NYU nest.
And once again, the band had absolutely nothing to do with any of Violet's tribulations. It was properly and safely applied, at the right size and right place (the tarsus), five years ago. The injury was a squirrel or rat bite that crushed bone and ripped tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Healing was never complete. It couldn't have been. Too much tissue damage. She was fortunate to survive as long and as well as she did.
And some will ask how I can know all of this. Well, in the 70s and 80s I did hawk rehabbing and had several foot-injured hawks, caught in animal traps, with crushed toes or foot joints. I was able to save only those where a single toe was crushed, by the toe's amputation. When there was greater damage, the hawk had to stand on the
uninjured foot, which in time, usually a few weeks, always had lethal bumblefoot set in. My vet and I tried tetracycline treatments for the bumblefoot infection, but it never works. The bird always dies. Bumblefoot in one-legged hawks is universally fatal.
Violet isn't the first haggard (adult) or immature red-tail to die from injuries caused by prey attempted in capture. Rabbits and jack rabbits can give lethal and skin-tearing kicks. Even rats, if not quickly dispatched, can bite severely. And wings can be broken on limbs or fences when plunging onto fleeing prey. Many red-tails die with broken wings on the ground.
Life for red-tails is not always as calm or tranquil as it can appear in a Manhattan nest cam or through a pair of binoculars there. Sadly, we are witnessing the other side of red-tail life, the inevitable death that eventually frequents them all.
--John Blakeman