Rusty’s Winter Adventure

We had travel plans for the holidays. Nothing too distant, just visiting family on both sides. So we planned to only stay away from home as long as we felt comfortable leaving Rusty on her own. Rusty got extra food before we left late on December 23rd, 2014. We visited with Diane’s mother, Marguerite, and brother, Joe, in Clearwater, and came back home just after midnight in the early part of the 27th. And when I checked the mews, the door was standing open and Rusty was nowhere around.

That certainly put a damper on holiday spirit for us. Now a member of the family/pack was unaccounted for. A 23-year-old hawk out on her own, where the oldest known wild mark-recapture instance we know of in her species was just 13 years old. While we still see plenty of ability in Rusty’s hunting, it’s hard to know that it will be sufficient without the aid of the rest of the pack.

For three days, Diane and I split search duties, with Diane doing the away-from-home walking to try to see if she would cross paths with Rusty, and I hung around outside the house in case Rusty came back there. Diane’s walks were in the morning and late afternoon to avoid the mid-day Florida heat. We also made some excursions in our truck, with Diane waving a rabbit leg or me whistling, calling, and swinging a lure from time to time. We talked to hikers and joggers, we submitted the federal “paperwork” to say Rusty was missing, we corresponded with state wildlife officials, put up a Craigslist ad, entered Rusty into Falcon Finders, talked to Florida Audubon and wildlife rehabbers, and saw no sign of Rusty for two and half long, frustrating days.

One of the wildlife rehabbers noted that they got good data from feedback after a TV station had a story on their missing bird, and suggested we try that. So we put together something that was most of the way to the form of a news release and emailed that to several area stations.

The last time Rusty got loose, it was Diane walking a bit over half a mile from home that got her in touch with Rusty. This time, Rusty came back to the vicinity of the house later in the afternoon of December 29th, 2014. I was outside, having set up a card table and trying to get a laptop working with an external monitor, when I heard a kestrel making annoyed sounds. It’s pretty easy to get a kestrel annoyed, but this one kept on screaming. I was on the west side of the house, and the kestrel noise was coming from the east. I went into the east side yard, whistling our hawk recall (one short, one long) and calling Rusty’s name. Ritka had come out into the fenced yard and was keening, so I let her out to come with me. We both headed into the east pasture, then went north to that boundary. I had seen no sign of a hawk other than the kestrel. I looped around our retention pond that is NW of the house and was headed back to my table when I noticed a bird sitting on a tree at the west property line. I encouraged Ritka to do some more hunting for birds or bunnies, and did another whistle and call. The bird launched from its perch and headed my way. It was, indeed, Rusty, and she pitched up on a brush pile about 50′ from me. I called Diane, then went inside to get a quail to lure Rusty with. Coming out to the backyard and mews, I called Rusty’s name, and she promptly flew over the house and into a tree. I offered the quail on the glove, and she seemed content just to hang out in the tree. I put Ritka and Beka into the garage and stepped back out. After another minute or so, Rusty launched and flew down to the glove, claiming the quail. I stepped toward the mews door and Rusty made to go in. I tossed in the quail and closed the door. And that’s “the rest of the story”. Harris’s hawks are pretty comfortable with simply being in line-of-sight, and sometimes groups will be spread out over a couple of miles. So Rusty being at the western boundary was probably, to her, a perfectly sufficient check of the home base. I’m just glad the kestrel got annoyed.

I notified Diane that Rusty was safely back, then my family, then updated a web page I created to supplement information I sent to the media, then posted a FaceBook status that Rusty was home. As people responded on FaceBook, they noted that at least one of the TV stations, Channel 8, had run the story on Rusty being missing. I emailed Channel 8 an update and thanked them for their assistance.

I also went to the hardware store and got some hardware to help make the mews door more secure. I don’t know exactly how the door got unlatched before, but that just shouldn’t happen with the new stuff. We are also looking into getting a 30-day transmitter that we can leave on Rusty most of the time, and change the battery every couple of weeks.

Pretty much every time that Rusty is away from us overnight or longer, we put in a lot of worry. So far when we get back together, she is usually looking just fine. While she came back to food on the glove, she obviously didn’t actually need more food. We love our social hawk, even though we seem to be just slightly daft and handicapped pack members to her. Rusty had somewhere between four and six days away from home, and she isn’t saying exactly how far she went or what she did or got up to while away.

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