Birds in the News

Why One NYC Red-Tailed Hawk Needed a Double Rescue

The lone juvenile got into trouble twice this week. Luckily, both the NYPD and NYC firefighters were there to help out.

New York City normally keeps its firefighters and police officers pretty busy—and this week was no exception. In addition to their normal calls of duty, both NYPD’s finest and bravest ended up helping out one very needy Red-tailed Hawk.

Early Sunday morning, NYPD harbor officers Christopher Kessinger and Steven Khaykin spotted a flock of seagulls circling something unusual in the frigid waters beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. When they arrived by boat they realized this was no grisly crime scene—instead, Kessinger and Khaykin found a sodden juvenile Red-tailed Hawk flailing in the cold river. Red-tails are known to occasionally swoop down and pluck seagulls and fowl out of the water, but they aren’t designed to swim, and it’s nearly impossible for them to fly if their feathers get wet. So officer Kessinger scooped the hawk out of the water (with gloved hands, of course), dried him off with a towel, and watched as the young bird flew off towards Manhattan.

The hawk’s mid-morning dip was quickly dismissed as a juvenile mistake—that is until he showed up a day later in the middle of a construction site near the World Trade Center. Despite the commotion of ongoing construction, the hawk appeared too weak to fly away. So firefighters from Engine 10 called up Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and NYC firefighter, who guided his colleagues through the rescue process over the phone. “They didn’t want to get hurt or injured, so I told them to approach the hawk from behind and throw a towel or a blanket over it and put him in a box,” Horvath said.

Once Horvath arrived, he brought the hawk to his home where he and his wife run a wildlife rehabilitation center and started treating the bird for a flat fly infestation (it will also get a full vet checkup with x-rays and blood work done to rule out any chronic injuries). “He doesn’t appear injured, but he’s too weak to hunt,” Horvath told the NY Daily News. Once he regains his strength, Horvath will release him back into the wild, but until then he’ll get some much needed RR&R—rest, relaxation, and rodents.

The rescued Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Bobby Horvath

In addition to fighting fires, Horvath has rehabilitated birds of prey for more than 20 years. Red-tailed Hawks frequently nest in New York City’s parks, Horvath says, and it’s not unusual for juveniles to fall ill as they learn to hunt in the concrete jungle that is still somewhat far from their ideal environment. Because of that, they’re one of the most common birds that come through his door.

While this handsome Red-tail was lucky to land among New York City’s heroes (twice!), contacting animal control, state wildlife officials, or a wildlife rehabilitator is the best thing you can do if you find an injured raptor. How do you assess injury? Anytime you can approach a raptor without it flying off, Horvath says, it’s safe to assume something’s not right.

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