Swainson’s Hawk Rescued from Busy Freeway in Davis, CA

I was returning to the Region 2 office from UC Davis Tuesday June 19 when I saw an injured hawk in the shoulder of the fast lane – right on the yellow line of eastbound Interstate 80. Pulling into the shoulder near the center divide, I assessed the situation and made a call to Wildlife Investigation Lab’s (WIL) Stella McMillin, Krysta Rogers, and veterinarian Deana Clifford. Our rescue mission was simple, but dangerous: rescue the hawk from the freeway in a manner that was safe for the hawk, me and freeway traffic.

Adult Swainson’s Hawk

The hawk was alive but injured, and I sensed that if I approached it, it might go directly into traffic.  If I were to do nothing, the hawk still could head into traffic and cars were starting to swerve to avoid the hawk. Stella and Krysta called the California Highway Patrol while Deana contacted Yolo County Animal Services for further assistance. She also alerted the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).

CHP Officer Marco Rivera was on the scene and ready to help within minutes. While going over a rescue plan, the hawk managed to move into the center divide among the oleander bushes – safely away from traffic. Knowing this was our window to safely act and once I guaranteed to Officer Rivera that I could capture the hawk and safely contain it, he acted. After briefly halting all the eastbound freeway traffic for me, I was able capture the hawk and place her in the only animal transport carrier I had – a live animal trap. I know this is not the ideal carrier for a raptor (or any bird), but it was all that I had in my vehicle and a freeway hawk rescue was not on my list of things to do that day! With the hawk safely in my vehicle, Officer Rivera escorted me to the Yolo Fruit Stand where I met up with Yolo County Animal Service.

With the danger of the freeway behind us, we agreed I would take the hawk to the VMTH for evaluation.

Swainson’s Hawks are a state threatened species and populations are declining throughout much of their range. In the Central Valley, these beautiful birds arrive in early March or April to breed. The breeding season can last through August until they gather again to start fall migration. Most of these hawks winter in Mexico, Central and South America. This species is one of the many that is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning. Pesticide use in Argentina was responsible for the deaths of nearly 6,000 individuals in 1995-1996. CDFG has initiated a Swainson’s Hawk inventory in response to the listing and more information can be found at the California Swainson’s Hawk Inventory.

I am happy to report that this hawk was treated for soft tissue and head trauma at the VMTH and is now being cared for at the California Raptor Center.   I am hopeful that she will be released soon!

Thanks again to Officer Rivera for his exceptional professionalism and ability to control the situation quickly and safely – he helped to give this hawk a second chance! A big thank you goes out to Deana, Stella, and Krysta for their assistance.

CDFG does not advise anyone to risk their safety and the safety of others to care for sick and injured wildlife. If you should find an injured bird or wild animal, please visit CDFGs Living with Wildlife to learn more.

For more information about pesticide use and wildlife conflicts, please read A Sad End for a Coyote by WILs Stella McMillin.

Adult Swainson’s Hawk

For more information on Swainson’s Hawks or other wonderful birds in our area please visit All About Birds by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology or the Seattle Audubon Societies Bird Web.

More information on wildlife rehabilitation and a complete list of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in your area can be found by clicking on the links.


One thought on “Swainson’s Hawk Rescued from Busy Freeway in Davis, CA

  1. Thank you SO much for taking the time and trouble to do this. Threatened or not, this bird needed and deserved help and I am grateful to you for making that decision! Bravo!


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