Tamarack Wildlife Center’s first animal ambassador, Lady Hawk, dies at 31
SAEGERTOWN — When Sue DeArment was called to pick up a red-tailed hawk in the northeast 31 years ago, she had no idea the bird would help transform the mission of the Tamarack Wildlife Center.
In 1991, Lady Hawk was found with a damaged tendon that did not allow her wings to fully extend or retract.
DeArment – who was volunteering with the Tamarack Wildlife Center in Woodcock Township, Crawford County, at the time and in the process of getting her wildlife rehabilitation license – was assigned to work with Lady Hawk .
“I had never had a glove in my hand to handle a falcon,” she said. “I was training to hopefully get her free, but that tendon never healed properly.”
But DeArment wasn’t going to let Lady Hawk’s three months of work go to waste.
“When you’ve been working with an animal like this for so long, I decided I wanted to make it an educational bird,” DeArment said.
It wasn’t long before the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 21601 Stull Road in Saegertown, became an organization with a mission to educate as well. Lady Hawk became the centre’s first animal ambassador, who served as a wildlife educator to the public until her death on June 11 at the age of 31.
“She was just wonderful in front of people and people had never been this close to a hawk before,” DeArment said. “She was always our star.”
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A ‘heel’-ted educator
Lady Hawk’s new purpose paved the way for wildlife education in Tamarack. She was the matriarch of the Ambassador Program, according to Tamarack’s website.
From visiting schools and senior centers to participating in educational programs at the center, Lady Hawk has captured the attention of thousands, said Carol Holmgren, executive director of Tamarack.
“She gave them an unforgettable experience of a falcon all around us that will hopefully inspire people to open their eyes and ears to listen and seek out the wildlife around them,” Holmgren said. “People were just fascinated by her.”
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As much as the public loved watching her, she loved watching them.
“She loved people watching,” Holmgren said. “As you stand with her it’s almost like you disappear and she just pays attention to the wind and sights and sounds and your glove is just the branch she’s standing on. There’s just something magical thing to have a wild bird both with you and ignore you.”
Lady Hawk was also a larger than average female red-tailed hawk, weighing around 1,500 grams, or just over three pounds. Unlike red-tailed hawks in the wild, which can live up to 15 years, Lady Hawk has doubled her lifespan, which is comparable to a 100-year-old person, Holmgren said.
“She got free health care and catered meals, so those were some of the things that contributed to her longevity,” she said. “She also received special geriatric care… There were little things that we could help her feel comfortable with, just like we do for humans in their golden age. She had a very good quality of life.”
leave an impact
Lady Hawk’s presence not only left an impression on the audience, but also on her guardians.
Tamarack’s caretakers loved her singing when she ate her favorite squirrel meal, when she practiced bird yoga on the glove during training, and especially when she took her daily baths.
“Lady loved taking a bath, her whole aviary would be soaked and there would be huge circles of water around her bath,” Holmgren said. “It’s a sign that they’re taking care of themselves and it’s also ridiculously cute.”
Holmgren said each volunteer had a special connection to Lady Hawk.
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“I know some of the volunteers who handled it for the first time were quite terrified, but seeing this majestic red-tailed hawk jump on your glove is something most people will never forget,” said she declared.
For Lee Ann Hill, a former Tamarack volunteer, seeing Lady Hawk for the first time is something she will never forget.
“The first time I stopped at Tamarack to volunteer they had Lady Hawk outside and I was blown away by those birds sitting calmly with volunteers and enjoying the time in the sun,” Hill said. “I was beyond inspired by them and excited to see them out.”
Hill chose to spend all four years of his Allegheny College Bonner Head of Service program at Tamarack and spent almost every day with Lady Hawk.
“She would gladly step on the gauntlet so it was her choice to come and spend time with me, we did training sessions to reinforce certain behaviors for her health… You build a bank of trust over time by working with them and she has been a wonderful participant in all of his care,” she said.
Hill’s favorite times with Lady Hawk were spent enjoying the peace and quiet of the surrounding woods of Tamarack.
“I think it was a good break from the hustle and bustle of the day for both of us,” Hill said. “I’ve worked with a lot of birds since then and it was the calmest bird I’ve ever worked with. It was just a very sweet bird.”
At an open house Sept. 25 at the Tamarack Wildlife Center, 21601 Stull Road, Saegertown, the organization plans to honor Lady Hawk’s legacy.
“Usually we get quite a few red tails in August and September and over the past few years it’s happened to have one ready to come out…and if so, this one will most definitely be released in his honor,” said Holmgren.