POWELL — While working in an isolated area of Merit Energy’s Garland/Byron Field, Chris Large noticed a red-tailed hawk hopping around, unable to fly. Hoping to save the beautiful male, Large caught it and then called Susan Ahalt, aka The Bird Lady.
Ahalt often drives hundreds of miles to retrieve an injured bird. This time Merit production foreman Roger Hart, who lives near Ahalt, drove the bird out to her facility, Ironside Bird Rescue. Luckily the injuries weren’t bad.
“If you think of a bird’s wing as a human hand, it was broken from the wrist to the first joint,” Ahalt said.
She applied a splint to the wing and put the hawk — which she called Garland — in Ironside’s critical care unit. Within a couple weeks of nursing the feisty bird, Ahalt moved it to a large flight pen to see if it could make it on its own. He “flew all over right away,” she said. It was soon time to return Garland to where he was found.
It’s important to return red-tailed hawks to their home range — they mate for life and Ahalt hoped to reunite him with his significant other. Red-Tailed hawks usually renew their bonds after hunting alone over the summer, so the timing was important. As Ahalt tossed Garland in the air, the big boy spread his wings and flew about a hundred yards to a perch in a nearby tree.
Shortly after, another red-tailed hawk came to the tree and the two flew off to the east as a group of Merit employees watched in amazement.
“It was awesome,” said Phillip Sheets, an electrician for the energy company.
Ahalt attempts to rescue and release many dozens of raptors a year. This year she also worked with species like sandhill cranes, American white pelicans and avocets. Her efforts don’t always end on a positive note. Some injuries are too bad to attempt to fix. Others, even after expensive surgeries and daily care and feeding, don’t make it back to the wild. But on this day, Ahalt was all smiles watching not only Garland flying free, but the smiles on the faces of the men at Merit Energy who saved Garland.
“I can’t believe they found it out here. But the best part is they cared enough to save him,” she said.
The Merit crew enjoy the wildlife in the area and have seen elk, deer, snakes and many bird species. They’ve even had grizzlies in the work area. They make efforts to help wildlife, leaving dead electric poles standing for birds to use as perches and nesting sites, as well as covering lines and transformers to help keep them from becoming electrocuted on live lines.
“We spend a lot of time and money to save the birds,” Sheets said.