Travis Bonovsky of Brooklyn Center often goes bird watching in Palmer Lake Park, a large nature area that straddles the border of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. On a recent Sunday morning what caught his attention was not a bird in the sky, but a lump of feathers on the ground.
Looking closer, he realized it was a dead Cooper’s hawk chick. Bonovsky said Cooper’s hawks are fairly common in the cities and can often be seen perching on light posts.
“When I saw that I was just heartbroken,” Bonovsky said. “The odds for birds reproducing are pretty slim.”
But then he started wondering how it ended up sprawled on the pavement.
“I looked up, and there was a nest straight up above, about 60 feet up in the tree,” he said. “It looked like it had fallen apart, either from wind or a raccoon.”
The nest was so torn apart Bonovsky could see another chick still inside and was concerned it would fall too. Nearby, an adult hawk perched for a while before flying away.
Then Bonovsky noticed something else in the weeds, a little way off the path — another chick. At first, it too looked dead, but then he saw it breathing.
Although Bonovsky has enjoyed bird watching the past few years, he didn’t know what to do. But last fall, he and a few other nature-lovers from Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park formed the Friends of Palmer Lake Park to study, promote and enjoy the nature area. He knew one of the members, Paul Fusco, volunteers for the University of Minnesota Raptor Center.
Bonovsky called Fusco, who came with gloves, towels and a cardboard box. They lined the box with towels and placed the chick inside, wearing gloves to protect against its needle-sharp talons. Fusco knew better than to poke holes in the top of the box — if birds can see the sky above them, they’ll often try to escape.
Bonovsky called the raptor center, and the person at the other end of the line asked them to check a few signs to see if the chick was well.
“I did some general things to see if there was anything obvious,” Fusco said. “I knew about the anatomy enough to check on a few things.”
As far as he could tell, the chick was fine, despite the 60-foot fall.
“They’re not as fragile as they look,” Bonovsky said.
Because nothing seemed wrong with the chick, the raptor center worker deemed it best to send a tree climber to repair the nest and replace the chick.
Often it’s best not to take animals in, unless absolutely necessary, Fusco explained.
“A lot of times humans make these animals orphans by taking them away from their parents,” he said.
But Bonovsky wasn’t sure how the climber would get up 60-feet into a box elder tree.
“I thought it was crazy,” he admitted.
The raptor center worker didn’t know how long it would take to find a climber who could tackle the job and asked Bonovsky to take the bird home and wait for a call.
Luckily, a climber named Jim was in the area and made it to the site in about two hours.
When he arrived, Jim assessed the tree that seemed so daunting to Bonovsky.
“That’s an easy one,” he said.
He scaled a ladder as far as he could. Then he climbed the tree, using a pole to loop rope over branches above to prevent him from joining the chick that didn’t make it.
When he reached the nest, Jim placed the chick in the nest in a bag, and lowered it to Bonovsky. Then Jim took a piece of wire and wrapped it around the tree and nest to hold everything together. He added some twigs from nearby branches, as well as some grass Bonovsky sent up.
“He rebuilt their nest in like five minutes,” Bonovsky said. “It probably took them weeks to build.”
When it was complete, Bonovsky transferred both chicks to the bag and sent them up.
He didn’t hang around long after Jim finished, fearing the mother wouldn’t return if he did, even though Jim assured him that wouldn’t matter.
A few hours later, Bonovsky and his wife returned to look at the nest. Sure enough the mother had returned. Her tail stuck out over the side of the nest, and it seemed she might be feeding the chicks.
“Oh gosh, I felt great,” Bonovsky said.
For more information on the Friends of Palmer Lake Park or to read Bonovsky’s account of the day’s events, visit palmerlakepark.blogspot.com or search for Friends of Palmer Lake Park on Facebook.