Farmers keep the spirit of flight alive

Hawks rescued | Farmers delivered babies to Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, which helped them recover

When Pam Bergen heard that personnel from the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre had released Swainsons hawks into the wild last month, she cried.

They were tears of joy that came months after she had shed tears of sadness over widespread destruction she saw July 26.

A storm bearing golf ball-sized hail struck Pam and Allen Bergen’s Cardston-area farm that day. It cut a wide swath of destruction that damaged crops and properties in southern Alberta.

Promising canola crops were flattened in the 20-minute barrage. Livestock were injured. Vehicles were damaged. The tin roof of the new shop was shot with holes.

Days later, Bergen remembered the hawk’s nest on their property that she had been watching and photographing. She went out to check.

“I just happened to look down and there was the mom or dad, one of the adults, dead just below the nest. That’s when I really lost it.

“I was sad for all the damage we had before, but when I saw that mom dead, I really kind of lost my composure.”

There was no sign of the youngsters, which she knew had been nearly ready to fly. The nest was too high to reach, even with the tractor bucket.

A few days later, she and Allen saw a young hawk sitting in the ditch along their road.

“As we passed it, I told Allen, ‘I wonder if that’s one of those babies?’ ”

The hawk was still there on the return trip, so Bergen observed it with her zoom lens, phoned the birds of prey centre for advice and made her approach.

“He just sat there and I just gently laid a cloth over him and I put on some welding gloves and put him in a cat box.”

At the birds of prey centre in Coaldale, she learned the hawk was still gaining its flight feathers and that it was near starvation.

“They promised me they’d take care of him,” said Bergen.

Several days later, she and Allen spotted a second young hawk, in almost the exact same spot as the first. She rescued this one as well, and fed it a piece of venison using a pick-up needle from their combine.

The next day she took it to the centre and hoped for the best.

On Oct. 4, both hawks, healthy and fully feathered, were released into a nature preserve along the Oldman River.

“Never in my life did I ever think I could ever rescue one hawk, but to rescue two was just unbelievable, so when I found out that they were eating well and were going to be released back into the wild, it just made my heart dance,” said Bergen.

Colin Weir, manager of the birds of prey centre, said it is unlikely the two young hawks would have survived without intervention.

“They’d either starve or coyotes would get them,” said Weir, noting the scavengers often lurk beneath nests hoping for food scraps or birds to fall.

Bergen’s two hawks were among about 20 the centre raised or rehabilitated this summer.

Farmers, ranchers, wildlife officers and rural residents from southern Alberta bring young or injured birds to the centre, where they are raised with other birds of their species. Limited human contact and natural diets ensure they can be returned to their natural habitat.

“We get a lot of help from the rural public,” Weir said about rescues and donations to the non-profit, non-government funded centre.

With winter stretching ahead, he said more donations will be needed to feed and care for the more than 100 birds that the centre will overwinter.

Weir released Bergen’s two hawks and two others last month, along with two owls.

The hawks sailed into a clear blue sky and swept out over the Oldman River Valley, flapping their wings and then soaring on air.

By now, they will likely have started their migration to Argentina.

Bergen will be watching for their return in spring.

“After all of the destruction that came out of that hailstorm, I felt like there was a rainbow in saving those hawks,” she said.

“It certainly lifted my spirits and I’m really looking forward to watching out and seeing if anything returns to that nest next year. Whether it be those hawks or other hawks, in my mind it will always be them.”

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