After four months of painstaking rehabilitation and care, SouthWest Avian Protection Service released a young red-tailed hawk back into the wild Saturday afternoon.
The hawk was found in November near Fozzie’s Farm in Lewis after a strong storm.
Charles Littlejohn, the founder of the Dove Creek nonprofit, received a call from Colorado Parks and Wildlife about the bird being found on an icy road.
He saw that she was starving and her feet were frostbitten.
“I didn’t think this bird was going to make it,” Littlejohn said. “She was starving. She didn’t have the strength to fly. If she can’t fly, she can’t hunt. If she can’t hunt, she can’t eat. It was just a downward spiral.”
Littlejohn said to simply call the bird “Red Tail,” since the name he used, which related to her feisty nature, was less appropriate.
Littlejohn had to manually rehabilitate her legs for the first two weeks.
“I actually got in there and worked its legs and worked its talons back and forth,” Littlejohn said. “She couldn’t use them to grab prey. She couldn’t actually uncurl them.”
She had to be hand-fed at first.
It took about a month for her feet to regain their essential functions.
Over time, Red Tail was transferred to gradually larger pens where she could get exercise and adapt to being outside again.
Her diet primarily consisted of beef heart and small rodents.
Littlejohn estimates that Red Tail was about a year old at the time of her release, a juvenile just on the cusp of adulthood.
Upon being released Saturday, Red Tail quickly perched in a nearby tree before testing her wings out in the distance.
“She knows exactly where she’s at,” Littlejohn said. “She knows what she’s doing.”
Sisters Sharp and Rogers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began volunteering with the nonprofit over the weekend.
“It’s amazing to see the rehabilitation that is possible,” Sister Rogers said. “It’s really amazing. We’re hoping to keep coming out here and volunteering as much as possible.”
Littlejohn had been a falconer for 10 years before starting up SWAPS.
He plans to release a great horned owl and an American kestrel in the near future.
While it has had an early focus on rehabilitating birds, the organization plans on opening up an education center to help inform the community about avian wildlife.
Contributions can be made through the “donate” button on the SWAPS Facebook page or individuals can send a check to PO Box 667, Dove Creek, CO, 81324.