Over the last 5 years of volunteering at WildCare, I have done things that I never would have believed I had the stomach for. I have given shots, sutured a gash in an opossum, cleaned up pounds of raccoon poop in one fell swoop, disemboweled various food items, and cleaned deep, superating puncture wounds. Honestly, I have greatly impressed myself since the Barker gag reflex is near legendary. Almost as legendary as the Barker toe. But every so often, something new comes along, something I’ve never seen before and it gets the best of me.
At this time of year, we get lots of first-year red tail hawks. We call them stupid juvies. They are on their own for the first time and finding the whole hunting thing to be more difficult than they imagined. Then it gets cold and rainy. They usually come in severely underweight or emaciated. This weekend we had one such patient, but with a new twist. It had finally managed to find itself an easy meal – it had managed to find a way into a chicken coop and killed the largest chicken there, a 10-pounder. It then proceeded to gorge itself. When the coop owner found it in with her chickens, she called the humane society to come and remove it. The officer got it out of the coop and tried to get it to fly away to no avail. Perhaps it was too weak. Perhaps it was simply too heavy.
We started making Looney Tunes chicken hawk jokes.
The chart notes said its crop was literally as big as a tennis ball when it came in Saturday. When we got there Sunday, the crop had not gone down in size and the food was pushing back upward and was in danger of blocking the glottis (airway).
So, Steve and one of the techs proceeded to remove some of the food while I held the mouth open. A couple of hours later, Steve and the assistant director of animal care had to remove significantly more food since it was pushing up again.
The strange thing was that, with the exception of several large feathers, everything rising to the surface was yellow chicken fat. It was like when you are separating fat from drippings to make gravy. Is it possible that fat would rise to the top of a hawk’s crop like it does in a fat separator?
I don’t know. All I know is it was disgusting. I had to leave the room. All told, they removed about 30 grams of fat and feathers from the burgeoning crop before it was small enough to put the hawk back in its cage. That’s the size of a very large mouse.