Little did Judy Camuso know, back when Gov. Janet Mills nominated her to head the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, that the question on everyone’s lips at her legislative confirmation hearing Wednesday will go something like this:

“Would the acting commissioner please articulate, both for the committee’s peace of mind and that of the people of Maine, what’s going to happen to the hawk?”

Camuso admitted in an interview Friday that she doesn’t yet know the answer. But, she conceded with a laugh, “I’m going to have to have one that’s acceptable.”

Maine’s one and only great black hawk, currently in the protective custody of the bird whisperers at Avian Haven (www.avianhaven.org), a rehabilitation hospital for all things feathered in the central Maine town of Freedom, has taken our winter lassitude by storm.

While its ever-growing multitude of fans waited breathlessly for the next update on Avian Haven’s Facebook page – Is it only one toe that’s frostbitten? Is it still eating its mouse “medallions”? – the young raptor continued to improve after almost freezing to death last Sunday in Portland’s Deering Oaks.

To recap: The hawk wandered away from its normal habitat in Mexico and Latin America last spring, flying first to Texas and then, during the summer, all the way to Maine.

Its arrival in August thrilled birders far and wide, the vast majority of whom had never before laid eyes on such a specimen. They flocked to its every sighting, cameras and binoculars in hand, until a winter storm knocked the bird from its perch in Deering Oaks and a cadre of heroic souls came to the rescue.

Enter Avian Haven, which for the past 20 years has treated some 26,000 birds from more than 100 species who arrive sick, orphaned, injured or any combination thereof.

“This afternoon, when (co-founder Marc Payne) opened the door of the Great Black Hawk’s hospital cage to replace provisions, the feisty bird jumped out and flew around the infirmary, landing on the exam table in the medical area,” read Thursday’s Facebook update. “So his afternoon check-up took place a little earlier than we had planned.”

Judy Camuso

Among the 150-plus comments that quickly piled up: “Is it too early to know what the chances are that you will be able to release him? If he can be released, will you do it up here or down in the warmer climate?”

The short answer is yes, it’s too soon to tell what effect the hawk’s frostbitten feet will have on its future travel plans. Once that’s known, according to Avian Haven, the decision on what to do next will be made in consultation with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Which, sooner or later, will put the new commissioner squarely on the hot seat.

Camuso has seen this kind of hubbub before.

For years, a lone red-billed tropicbird has inexplicably headed north each summer from its breeding area in the Galapagos Islands near the equator to a stretch of Maine coastal islands from Matinicus to Machias.

“People love it. It’s got big, long tail streamers, a bright red bill. It’s a beautiful bird,” Camuso said, noting that when birders hop on the tour boats to go watch the terns, many are actually praying for a glimpse of the red-billed tropicbird.

Then there’s the ivory gull that years ago drifted south one winter from its Arctic habitat to Portland’s waterfront. Bird watchers swooped in and Camuso, who worked at the time for Maine Audubon, started showing up in the morning to prevent a mob scene.

She arrived one morning to see a man – he’d just driven all the way from Colorado – stumbling out of his car with his pants down around his ankles. Apparently, he’d been changing into or out of his long underwear and was afraid he’d miss the gull. “He was so panicked,” Camuso recalled. “He’d heard that the bird was there, so he got out of the car and was running across the parking lot in his undies, pulling his pants up as he went, shouting ‘Is the bird still here? Is the bird still here?’ ”

There’s a name for this kind of passion. It’s called “biophila,” a hard-wired affinity we humans have for other life forms. It explains everything from why we surround our homes with flowers and shrubs to why some of us go out of our way to save a cat in the tree or, in this case, a bird in the snow.

Biophilia is in full bloom on Avian Havian’s Facebook page, right down to an emerging debate over whether the great black hawk should have a name.

Suggestions have ranged from “Parkside” to “Stan,” short for Stan Mikita, the legendary center for the Chicago Black Hawks, to “Mick Jagger, because of how he walks.”

To which one woman protested that this whole naming thing is way out of bounds.

“Naming a wild Relative seems like taking ownership of them.” she wrote. “This is where worldviews clash. Ownership is a colonial/imperial concept. It carries with it the notion that the Natural world is there to be controlled and used as one sees fit. Or put in a box to keep others out.”

I get her point. But honestly, who’s going to tell “Smokey” that, henceforth, he shall be referred to only as “the bear”?

Monikers aside, there’s not much we can do for now except cheer the hawk on and, if you’re so inclined, make a donation to Avian Haven online or by sending a check to Avian Haven, 418 N. Palermo Road, Freedom, ME 04941.

“The first part is to get the bird healed,” Camuso said. “My guess is no matter what happens, they’re not going to do anything with it until the spring.”

In the meantime, folks, let’s all keep our pants on.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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