Caretaker helps accidental houseguest take wing

Red Tailed Hawk
Photo by Scott Graupner

A red-tailed hawk’s miscalculated flight path landed him as an unwilling houseguest in Chilmark for a few days.

The presence of the bird caught Scott Graupner by surprise last Sunday. Stopping by to check on a house off State Road in Chilmark, he encountered what every caretaker dreads: signs of a possible intruder.

Unable to escape, the Red-tailed Hawk waits resolutely for rescue.

Photo by Scott Graupner

Unable to escape, the Red-tailed Hawk waits resolutely for rescue.

As he drove up the driveway, Mr. Graupner said he thought he caught a glimpse of movement on the screened-in porch. Although he noticed both doors to the porch were closed, as he continued to look around, he realized that one screen had a hole in it and about 8 of 12 screens were ripped. Peering cautiously inside, Mr. Graupner spotted the unwitting feathered intruder sitting on the floor.

“The conclusion I came to is the hawk was diving after something and probably went through the screen and couldn’t get out,” Mr. Graupner said in a phone call Monday. “Judging by the droppings, the bird probably was in there a few days, and it did not look happy.”

Looking the hawk over from a safe distance, Mr. Graupner said it did not appear to be injured, and he thought if he could just get the bird outside, it would be okay. He cleared an escape route through the porch furniture, grabbed a moving mat he keeps in his truck, and put some gloves on.

As he approached the hawk, speaking in soothing tones, the bird hopped up and sat on the arm of an Adirondack chair. Mr. Graupner then carefully draped the mat over and around the hawk and carried it out onto the lawn. “The bird was very light, maybe three or four pounds – that surprised me,” he said. “It didn’t startle in the least and made no move to fight me.”

Mr. Graupner carried the hawk outside, set it on the ground, and carefully unwrapped it. The bird spread its wings and sat on the mat for about five minutes while calmly looking around. Mr. Graupner said the hawk “didn’t startle in the least little bit” as he took some close-up photos.

The only signs of the hawk’s ordeal that Mr. Graupner observed were a few ruffled feathers, which did not prevent the bird from making a smooth takeoff a few minutes later, followed by a seamless landing in a nearby tree.

Mr. Graupner, who lives in Oak Bluffs and works as a carpenter for This Whole House, said he has never seen a hawk up that close. As someone who enjoys watching the birds that visit about 25 birdfeeders set up in his backyard, he especially appreciated the unique experience.

Times bird columnist E. Vernon Laux, who works for the Linda Loring Nature Foundation on Nantucket, looked at one of Mr. Graupner’s photos via email and confirmed that the rescued red-tailed hawk is an adult. “Females average a third heavier and have slightly longer measurements – I can’t tell from the photo but suspect that this individual is a female,” he wrote.

In a phone call Monday, Mr. Laux said that red-tailed hawks, the most common local hawks, are a resident breeding species on Martha’s Vineyard. Members of the genus buteo, red-tailed hawks eat prey such as rabbits, squirrels, and rodents.

“If the bird got stuck on a porch, fortunately, it would have some fat reserves to tide it over,” Mr. Laux said. “They often go two to three days without eating in the winter – getting dehydrated is more of a problem. They get a lot of water from their prey.”

Mr. Laux agreed with Mr. Graupner’s theory about the cause of the hawk’s crash landing. “He obviously was hungry and after something to eat,” Mr. Laux said. “He probably was locked onto something and the screen did not compute – he thought he could go through there without a problem. It’s just great that he didn’t get injured.”