Guest Blogging Day 4: Art Drauglis

Welcome to Day 4 of the Swarovski Optik Guest Blogging Contest. We've had a lot of fun entries so far, and our next one is from Art Drauglis, and is about one of those truly remarkable encounters you can have in nature.

Hawk vs. Turtle

Shortly after I started up the Powell Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park I noticed some movement off in the brush. At first I thought that I had flushed a Ruffed Grouse, but whatever it was had not gone very far. I moved up the trail a few feet and saw the bird again behind a tree. It was a juvenile Broad-Winged Hawk and it seemed to be injured or stuck. One foot was stuck inside of a trap or can. I took a few steps closer and saw that it was actually wedged into a box turtle. The prey had trapped the predator. The hawk had not yet learned that it was too small to lift something the size of a turtle. It was a Blue Ridge Mountain version of the Mexican Coat of Arms (an eagle battling a rattlesnake in a cactus). I have heard that some hawks will pick up turtles and drop them on rocks until their shells shatter; that was not going to happen today.

I thought that I might be able to assist the situation so I crouched down and moved to within three feet of the pair.

In order to free it I would have to use one hand to separate toe and turtle and the other to hold the hawk still. Not a recommended course of action. I thought that if I could go at the hawk from behind that the strategy might work, but if I got closer than three feet the hawk would roll back into a defensive posture. Not being able to get away, it was prepared to slash away with it's free foot and beak. Not only that, but every time it leaned away from me, the wedged toe bent at an unnatural angle.

I have learned that observing wildlife is much more healthy and satisfying when one pays attention to the cues and body language of the animal being observed and reacts accordingly. If I had had my welding gloves with me, I might have been able help more, but one seldom finds need for thick leather gloves on long hikes in the mountains. I had also never handled a raptor before and If something went wrong, I had a four miles of distance and 1800 feet of elevation to cover before I get help.

I backed away a few feet and then left them to their fate.

I wondered how long the turtle could keep itself boxed up, particularly if it was wounded. I imagined the toe stuck in there wagging around, stabbing and scratching.

If the hawk could not free itself by dusk it was doomed. It would be an easy picking for the first bobcat, coyote, fox, or bear to wander by. I should say a relatively easy picking; it would surely fight, but there would not be a chase.

As I walked away one thought went through my head -

What Would Birdchick do?

We had been introduced to Sharon via the Disapproving Rabbits page and two of our bunnies were in the DR book. When I wondered what I could have or should have done, she was the first person I thought to ask.

I was just hoping to get some thoughts or corrections about what I did or should have done or could do in the event I ever find a hawk with it's foot stuck in a turtle again.

The guidance she offered:

"First of all, officially and scientifically, you didn't do anything wrong to let nature take its course in this situation. However, there are loads of people who are happy to tell you the opposite. Pro turtle people will think you were cruel to leave it like that, hard core raptor enthusiasts will say you should have helped the hawk. And honestly, it's tough to say if both will survive or die from this altercation whether you helped either creature. Either the turtle or the hawk could get away from this and suffer from a fatal infection or they may go on to live several more years. Too many variables and something that happens all the time in the wild that few ever get the chance to witness. This is how first year birds learn how and what to hunt and one of the reasons why 75% of birds hatched this year don't live to see next year."

She also corrected my ID - since it was on the small side and in a forest, my first thought was Cooper's Hawk, but "The eye color is too dark and the shape in all of your photos is classic Buteo, not Accipiter." From that I was led to the correct ID - juvy Broad-Winged Hawk.

Thanks for the great entry, Art! We'll be back tomorrow with another entry in the blogging contest!