A large bird of prey flying by the window and perching on a fence in the yard was something Dawn Doak and Glena Stark felt they should be paying attention to.
Doak was cleaning for her client, 79-year-old Stark recently, when they spotted what turned out to be a Harris hawk. It had a leather strap attached to one leg and they knew it must belong to someone. So, being brave souls, gathered a cat carrier, towel, leather gloves and a little raw hamburger. Their intention was to capture it safely. So, as Doak fed the hawk, Stark crept up behind it, covered it with the towel and placed it inside the cat carrier.
“It certainly was used to humans,” said Doak Thursday. “It just reached out with its foot and grabbed my fingers to get at the food.”
After taking the hawk to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington, Doak said they found out it belonged to an area falconer — Kevin Letts, who owns PK Bird Control Services.
Even more, they were told that the hawk, named Magnolia, has been missing 18 days.
“Honestly, after searching for her for three days, in the condition she was in, I thought that she didn’t make it,” said Letts.
He had been training Magnolia alongside her boyfriend Manute, another Harris hawk, at the Church Road transfer station near Parksville. Letts’ business used hawks to frighten off crows and seagulls from landfill sites, buildings and more.
A simple letting down of his guard for a moment and Magnolia — who hadn’t been flying for years while with another owner — took off.
“She is old and angry,” Letts said about his latest hawk. “I was just about to leash her and she escaped.”
He had had her only three or four days. And with the recent weather and other predatory birds in the area, he wasn’t sure that Magnolia would make it.
That’s when he got a call from the wildlife centre. He quickly identified Magnolia and they were reunited this week. Letts and Doak met up with The News at the transfer station, where the hawks were put through some of their paces.
Letts learned the craft from his mentor, a 40-plus year veteran of the field. The Harris hawk, Letts continued, is a common falconry bird, as they take to the training quite well.
“They are very social. They love being part of the party,” he said.
The hawks are trained to be carried and transported via leather glove on the trainer. They are taught to respond to food, keeping them coming back to their owners.
The presence of the birds of prey alone (Letts said they rarely kill other birds) keeps other birds — like crows and gulls away from places like landfill sites. Letts said he’s up at the Church Road facility each week and has seen a significant reduction in crows there.
Since each bird is an investment in time and money, Letts was very happy that someone found Magnolia and had the wherewithal to catch her and return her safely.
“It is rare to find a lost bird,” he said. “But they do know how to survive. They are tough animals.”