It was a scorching hot July day when Tim O’Neill’s grounds crew found a red-tailed hawk on the 15th hole fairway at the Country Club of Darien. As grounds superintendent at the club, keeping the greens free from obstructions is part of his crew’s daily routine, but this obstacle was a bird of a different feather.
“We watched it for a little while, then called Wildlife in Crisis up in Weston,” O’Neill told The Times. “They told us to keep an eye on it. A few hours later it wasn’t doing better.”
Wildlife in Crisis cares for injured and orphaned wildlife, and asked O’Neill to bring the hawk to them. They told O’Neill to use a towel and scoop up the injured raptor. O’Neill said the bird, which his crew aptly named Mulligan, which is a golf term for a second chance, had no fight left in it when he grabbed it off the course’s sand trap to take to Weston.
He put the hawk in a box, placed it in his truck and headed northeast. By the time he reached Weston, the air conditioning must have had a positive effect because the hawk went from laying down to standing up.
Once the hawk was with Wildlife in Crisis, Dara Reid, the center’ director, handed the bird over to Dr. Stephanie Lamb, a veterinarian at the South Wilton Veterinary Group and expert in aviary care.
The hawk still had some “attitude,” Lamb said, which was an indication that it had a chance to survive. She soon identified the problem: the hawk had two illnesses — aspergillus pneumonia, a fungal respiratory infection, and a blood parasite.
“We’ve had quite a few raptors coming in with the blood parasite,” Lamb told The Times, adding that the disease is spread by flies and mosquitoes and the mild winter may have allowed for more insects to survive and act as vectors for the parasite. Neither disease is transmittable to humans, however.
After holding onto the hawk for a week, Lamb gave it back to Wildlife in Crisis, which nursed the hawk back to health over the past two months, feeding it antibiotics and antifungals, along with two mice a day and giving it plenty of exercise in its 40-foot flight cage where it got into shape before being taken home.
On a cool September afternoon, Reid showed up to the country club with the hawk in a blue Tupperware bin with scores of holes drilled into the top. She carried the bin to the roof where a group of spectators waited for the release. Once the bin opened, the bird showed immediate signs of life, flapping its wings and clawing at the leather gloves that kept Reid’s hands from being shredded by the razor-sharp talons.
Lamb then took the hawk from Reid, and after some fanfare, released the hawk into the sky, and it promptly perched onto a tree limb, scouring the grounds for squirrels or chipmunks.
“We count on people like Tim to bring in” injured animals, Reid said. Darien residents often call the center for geese and ducks, Reid said, along with the occasional hawk.
O’Neill said he just wanted to see Mulligan returned to its family, which built a nest between the 18th and 7th holes on the golf course. He said he’s also seen red-tailed hawk nests in other locations on the course, and that their presence helps keep the squirrel population down, which makes the grounds crew’s job a little easier as the squirrels can be a nuisance.
Ioa Byrne, a bird expert and staff member at the Darien Nature Center, said that the golf course has been a haven for numerous wildlife, and that O’Neill has helped maintain the integrity of the natural ecosystem through his efforts.
“We’re very proud of our bird life here,” Byrne said, adding that there are many other species of birds that flock to the golf course for its water and abundant insects.
The red-tailed hawk, also known as a chicken hawk, is one of the most common breeds of hawks used for falconry in the United States. It ranges from Alaska through Canada and the United States all the way to Central America. While abundant, it is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The red tail feathers are also used in some Native American cultures.
Wildlife in Crisis was started in 1989 and receives 10,000 calls each year and handles 5,000 hurt animals annually. The center relies solely on contributions from donors for its operation, which is totally volunteer run.
More info: WildlifeInCrisis.org