The injured red-tail fledgling still has minimal to no sight in his right eye and the prognosis for significant improvement is very poor at this point. As per prior postings, a hawk with vision impairment is at a very significant disadvantage--even more so if they are young and completely inexperienced at surviving on their own in the wild. The hawks is scheduled for one more visit with the ophthalmologist, but we are not holding out much hope at this point. He is now housed in a small flight cage with another rehabilitating red-tail.
We will probably begin looking at whether he would be appropriate as an educational bird at a permanent educational facility. Transferring a bird from rehabilitation status to permanent educational bird status is a significant step and is tightly regulated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. All of our native hawks and most of our native birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The MBTA makes it illegal to possess a protected bird without a permit. There are a variety of different permits that are issued ranging from hunting permits for waterfowl and game birds, to scientific research permits to wildlife rehabilitation and educational bird permits. All the work that Audubon does at its Wildlife Care Center is done under federal permits. The MBTA was passed nearly a century ago to prevent exploitation and wanton destruction of native birds. Its passage was specifically in response to two issues: the complete extinction of the passenger pigeon (once the most numerous bird in North America) in a matter of a few decades by over hunting and the threats to herons and egrets by the millinery (hat makers) trade which prized their feather for lady's hats.
So far, the red-tail has been held under our rehabilitation permits meaning that he is being held with the intent of releasing him back to the wild. In order to permit the hawk to be held permanently in captivity, we would need to submit a new educational bird application in which we demonstrate that the bird is suitable for life in captivity and that an appropriate educational bird facility is available. Protected birds cannot be transfer ed to the public to be held as pets---they can only go to licensed facilities to be used for educational purposes.
We spend a good deal of time assessing whether a given bird is adaptable for life in captivity. This includes considering the birds injuries and whether they will cause the bird to suffer over time, stress level around humans, availability of appropriate facilities, etc. Some folks are surprised to learn that finding an appropriate facility for a non-releasable bird can often be a challenge. The truth is that there are a limited number of facilities and cages out there and literally tens of thousands of birds passing through rehabilitation facilities each year. In the past we have had to hold even such high profile animals as bald eagles and river otters for the better part of a year before facilities became available. The process of assessing the hawk would be done by our veterinarian and our educational bird coordinator.
Some folks have wondered if we would potentially keep the hawk here at Audubon. The answer is probably not. We currently house a variety of non-releasable birds for educational programing including a raven, spotted owl, two kestrels, great horned owl, spotted owl, red-tail and peregrine. That fills all of our available caging. These birds can live a long-time in captivity. Our red-tail has been with us for twenty years and our peregrine for more than a decade. Each bird costs between $3000-$6000/ year for care. Ecollins mentioned that our red-tail is old and that this bird could potentially serve as a replacement. It is correct that she is old (20 years!)--she is very geriatric and no longer goes out on presentations, but she is on display at Audubon and has a place until she decides to leave this world. She is a feisty old bird an does not appear inclined to move on anytime soon.