Sharp-shinned Hawks are extremely agile fliers. They often fly at high speed through seemingly impenetrable foliage, adeptly avoiding collision with a single leaf or branch as they pursue the smaller birds on which they prey. As maneuverable as they may be, these birds can't avoid what they can't see.
Depending on the angle of the light, windows often act more like mirrors. When windows reflect plants, sky, grass or other features of the nearby environment, birds are unable to distinguish between these and the real thing. So a bird flying full-speed toward the branch he believes he sees in the distance instead ends up flying headlong into a pane of glass. A Sharp-shinned Hawk played this scenario out to its inevitably painful conclusion in Des Moines, WA on October 12. After the collision, the homeowner to whom the window belonged scooped up the stunned hawk and brought her to PAWS.
Upon arrival at the wildlife center the hawk was weak and quiet. Her head was tilted slightly to the right and blood was present in her mouth. She was also holding her left eye closed. Depite these injuries, the Sharp-shinned Hawk had not suffered any broken bones, and hopes were high that she would make a full recovery. The wildlife rehabilitator on duty administered fluids and other supportive care to stabilize the hawk's condition. She responded well, and by the next day she was alert and making short flights. It was clear, however, that she could not see out of her left eye, so we called in Veterinary Ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Sullivan to fully assess the bird's vision.
Dr. Sullivan detected no damage in the Sharp-shinned Hawk's eyes. He concluded that the loss of vision was due to an injury in the brain. He suggested that her vision might return in time as her head trauma fully resolved. Fortunately, that is exactly what happened.
During the two weeks that followed her eye examination, the Sharp-shinned Hawk slowly began to recover her vision. By November 1, she was flying rapidly around her flight enclosure, expertly avoiding branches that were hanging in her path. Now fully healed, she is ready to return to the wild. By the time you read this she will have been released.
Visit our wildlife common problems page to find out how you can help prevent birds from striking your windows.