A Portland woman who trained in falconry played a key role in rescuing the rare great black hawk that had been living in Deering Oaks Park since late November, far from its home in Central and South America.

The great black hawk that has been living at Deering Oaks in Portland was found on the ground unable to stand on Sunday. It was taken to Avian Haven and was alert and standing Monday morning.

Terra Fletcher and her husband, Dan Legnard, went out in the storm on skis Sunday to look for the hawk because they were worried about its ability to survive the winds and cold.

“I’ve helped rehabilitate a red-tail and a Cooper’s hawk and a baby barred owl,” Fletcher said. “I knew what to look for in an injured bird because of my falconry training.”

The bird was lying in the snow under a cluster of pines in the Portland park, another rescuer trying to help it, when Fletcher and Legnard came upon the scene. The couple and a relay team of four volunteer drivers helped get the bird to Avian Haven, a rehabilitation center in Freedom, and by Monday morning it was standing and looking alert, Avian Haven reported.

A great black hawk had never been seen in Maine before this year, and was rare anywhere in the United States. A great black hawk believed to be the same bird first appeared in Maine early August, marking only the second time the species had ever been seen in the U.S., Maine Audubon naturalist Doug Hitchcox said.

Since it arrived in Deering Oaks on Nov. 29, the raptor has drawn widespread attention in the news media and on social media and has been visited by birders from across the country. Fletcher herself had gone to observe the bird a number of times.

When the couple reached the hawk on Sunday, they found a man – identified by Avian Haven as Alfredo Nicolas – on his stomach trying to inch a box toward the bird, but he looked unsure what to do, Fletcher said. Having captured injured birds before, Fletcher took over. She took the box and carefully placed it over the hawk, then used her sweater to gently flip the bird into the box. She then closed the box flaps to contain the bird and obscure its view.

“It was clear that the bird was experiencing severe distress,” Fletcher said. “All the signs indicated it was an unhealthy bird. Generally, when they’re stressed like that, they freeze up and the best thing to do is get it in a box. I used my sweater to cover its eyes. If they can’t see, they’re less stressed. I also was careful not to break its tail feathers.”

Legnard took his wife’s skis and Fletcher quickly walked the 15 minutes back to their apartment with the bird, where she called Avian Haven. She knew her two-wheel-drive vehicle couldn’t make it to Freedom in Sunday’s storm, so she waited for one of Avian Haven’s volunteer drivers to collect the bird.

It took four hours for the team of four drivers – Game Warden Chris Roy drove one leg and Avian Haven co-owner Marc Payne drove another – to relay the bird safely through the storm from Portland to Freedom, a trip that normally takes 90 minutes.

“What made this a successful rescue is that she handled the bird appropriately,” Diane Winn, another Avian Haven co-owner, said of Fletcher. “But the procedure for a safe capture can be different among individual raptors, depending on their species and injuries. People who come upon an injured raptor, or any bird that could potentially be dangerous to handle, should call us, so that we can talk them through how to safely secure that particular bird.”

Winn said the injured hawk, whose age and sex haven’t yet been determined, appeared to have frostbite on its feet, although frostbite can “take a while to declare itself.” She said it was uncertain if the bird would be released into the wild because frostbite can cause long-term damage that would make it hard for the raptor to use its talons.

But even if the bird proves healthy enough to be released after treatment, if or where it would be released is uncertain, Winn said. That decision would be primarily rest with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Winn added that if the bird cannot be released, it will not stay at Avian Haven.

Hitchcox, of Maine Audubon, said the relocation of a non-native bird raises thorny questions.

“We know the bird came from the northern population ranging from Mexico to Panama, but its survival rate after relocation is probably just as low as it would be in Maine,” Hitchcox said. “If it is released in Maine, then we need to ask at what point do we stop intervening?”

Just minutes after news of the bird’s rescue was posted on social media, the scientific collections manager at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City – Paul Sweet – tweeted he’d like the specimen if it expired: “I hope the bird is OK but if it happens to pass I would very much like the specimen. Is the rehab Avian Haven?” Sweet posted on Twitter on Sunday.

Hitchcox said it is remarkable the bird has survived this long in Maine. “It has been feeding on squirrels, pigeons, rats, and voles and progressing through a molt making it look fairly different from its first sighting in the park,” he said.

As for Fletcher – she was delighted when she saw Avian Haven’s update on the hawk Monday morning on Facebook.

“The picture showed the bird with his mouth open and tongue out, hackles raised,” Fletcher said. “He was clearly healthy enough to be angry about being handled, which is a really good sign. When I had him he was just tired looking, always trying to close his eyes. I thought he was a goner. I have never been happier to be wrong.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contaced at 791-6452 or at:

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Twitter: FlemingPph


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