On Friday evening in Houston, Liz Compton couldn’t relax. It was the night before Hurricane Harvey would make landfall and the entire city was on edge as it waited for what would turn out to be a record-breaking amount of rain. Compton, a wildlife rehabilitator with the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition (TWRC) Wildlife Center in Houston, had other things on her mind, too. As she waited for the storm, she incessantly refreshed the TWRC Wildlife Center’s Facebook page for urgent messages in case people sheltering injured wildlife needed any advice.
Messages rolled in and Compton, who specializes in bird and raptor rehabilitation, remotely helped people care for storm-struck critters. One message, though, got her up and outside into the gathering storm: a link to videos of a hawk, a rising YouTube star, that required attention right away.
She pieced together the story from the series of videos. Earlier that day, an injured Cooper’s Hawk found himself a safe space to wait out the storm—inside a Lone Star taxicab. The cab owner, William Bruso, was out gathering supplies in preparation for the category 4 hurricane, and when he returned to his car, there huddled a frightened bird on his passenger seat. “Hurricane Harvey is getting ready to barrel down through here,” Bruso says in a YouTube video posted when he first met the hawk. “[And this bird] just kind of hopped in and doesn't want to leave.”
Bruso gave the hawk several opportunities to escape his cab, but he wouldn’t budge. So, the two settled in at Bruso’s home, where he continuously updated the world about Harvey the Hawk.
In one of Bruso’s updates, he mentions Harvey was “spooked” or possibly hurt by a cat, which got Compton worried about his injuries. “Harvey was lucky to find someone to take him in during this serious storm,” Compton says. “But I reached out to Bruso because I knew something was wrong with the hawk, and he needed more professional care. The storm didn’t quite rile up yet, so we had just enough time to pick up Harvey the next morning.”
Compton and her husband fetched Harvey themselves. But the center is inaccessible due to severe road flooding from the rain and an overflowing reservoir next door. So like all the other animals housed at the shelter, Harvey is being cared for at a TWRC staff member's home—in his case, Compton's.
Typically, TWRC is Houston's local hub for wildlife rescuers to drop off animals for treatment, get directions to independent rehabbers, or receive advice. Now, though, it's unavailable and soon injured animals will need assistance. So, what can a rescuer do?
Currently, four or five TWRC staff members are fielding calls and emails, advising people to follow the center’s general care protocols on their website. Compton’s main recommendation is to keep injured animals in warm, dark places such as a slightly heated box padded with blankets. Beyond that, TWRC staff are handling each rescue on a case-by-case basis; the number of animals taken in by rescuers is still unknown.
Flooding in Houston hasn’t let up, and the staff hasn’t figured out when the center should reopen. Everyone’s keeping a close watch on road and weather conditions and preparing for a huge influx of wildlife in the coming days, including birds exhausted from fighting the storm. “This time of year is the second squirrel breeding season, so we’re going to see a ton of baby squirrels,” Compton says. “Displaced baby birds, bunnies and opossums, as well as injured adults like Harvey, are also likely to straggle in.” When capacity becomes overloaded, the TWRC will take donations and volunteer manpower during post-storm animal care.
For now, Compton takes comfort in knowing that Harvey the Hurricane Hawk is getting back to tip-top shape. He’s eating and drinking, and getting a little feistier each day, she says. These are great signs, but she’s still eager to get Harvey an X-ray and a thorough checkup to make sure he can fly again when the roads and skies clear.
Update 9/1: Roads near the TWRC Wildlife Center have cleared, and staff are on site to take in rescued animals.