The great black hawk that has been suffering from frostbite since its rescue from a Portland Park during a snowstorm has been euthanized.
Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, made the announcement Thursday morning in a long Facebook post, detailing the raptor’s steadily deteriorating condition since it first arrived at the center during a snowstorm on Jan. 20.
“The decision to euthanize was completely unanimous among all who gathered here yesterday, though that decision was tinged with regret, sorrow, even heartbreak. It was seen by some of us as an end of suffering, and by others as the release of a spirit from its hopelessly damaged shell. Either way, all of us believed it was the only course of action that was fair to the hawk,” Avian Haven said.
What was believed initially to be minor frostbite affecting the hawk’s feet soon spread to its lower legs. On Tuesday, Avian Haven revealed that the hawk would likely lose at least two toes on each of its feet, complicating any chance for the bird’s potential release.
After an examination on Wednesday, veterinarians found under the hawk’s bandages extensive frostbite damage to its feet, which had become “discolored” and were beginning to “decompose.”
“Based on how rapidly the hawk’s feet deteriorated, we suspect that the initial frostbite damage occurred well before the bird was found on the ground on January 20, when frozen feet and associated pain had likely resulted in an inability to perch. Although he may not have appeared to be in distress in the few days prior to his rescue, any injured wild animal will hide discomfort until unable to compensate,” Avian Haven said.
Native to Central and South America, the great black hawk is the first of its kind to be spotted in the United States, Doug Hitchcox, an Audubon staff naturalist, told the BDN in November. Its appearance in Portland late last year made it a minor celebrity as birders flocked to Deering Oaks Park to catch a glimpse of the rare bird.
Great black hawks do not usually fly north beyond Mexico, and it’s unclear what brought this particular bird so far beyond its normal range. But the tropical bird ran into trouble on Jan. 20 when a major storm brought freezing temperatures, snow and sleet to the state. The tropical hawk was ill-equipped to deal with the Maine winter.
“Although greatly saddened that this beautiful hawk could not be saved, we take some comfort in knowing that she or he touched a great many lives, bringing people together and inspiring a greater interest in the natural world.”
While the hawk’s situation represented “an extreme case of species displacement,” Avian Haven said that the changing climate and increasing destruction of natural habitats will likely lead to a greater number of animals — feathered and non-feathered alike — to venture into territory well beyond their homelands. Like the hawk, many will find themselves in lands to which they aren’t well adapted, Avian Haven said.
“For us, and for many of you as well, today will be a day of grieving, but also of imagining this extraordinary Great Black Hawk flying free again in some realm other than our own,” Avian Haven said in its farewell to the feathered traveler.