Penny Boehme, a licensed bird rehabber, couldn't figure out what was the matter with Gwen, a rescued red-tailed hawk in her care. Ever since a young male red-tailed hawk had left her side to go to the veterinarian, Gwen uttered motherly bird calls nearly nonstop and refused food. Gwen had acted as a surrogate mother for 12 other babies before this one, but she'd never become this attached.
So when Largo officials called asking to bring the young male into McGough Nature Park to be part of the educational program, Boehme told them if they were taking him, they had to take Gwen, too.
"I feel animals in captivity that do have that kind of relationship, if they can, they should be placed together," Boehme said.
The two red-tailed hawks — the most common hawk species found in North America — are the newest rescued birds of prey to be housed at the park and are now being trained to help with educational presentations.
Gwen was rescued 10 years ago when a couple of people found her off the side of the road near the Florida-Georgia line with a severe wing injury. They got in touch with Boehme, who took Gwen to a veterinarian. The vet told her that the animal would have to be euthanized unless she received surgery and a permanent home, as she would not be able to survive in the wild.
Boehme decided to keep her, and over the years that followed, Gwen acted as a surrogate mother, teaching baby hawks eating habits and other survival skills.
Then, the young male hawk came along. Barb Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society had rescued him in January after being alerted by a woman who found him while walking her dog in Palm Harbor. He was likely hit by a car, Walker said.
Unlike all the other babies Gwen had mothered, this male was introduced to her at a younger age than the others and was the only hawk to be deemed unreleasable because of his eye injury.
"It was almost like she knew there would be a different path with this male juvenile," said Aleta Kane, nature park specialist at McGough.
Lifelong bonds are common among birds of prey, especially with mates, Walker said.
"They're incredibly smart, and they're long-lived species, so we're not talking about short periods of time," she said.
Walker and park staff later took the male hawk to Busch Gardens to have his injured eye surgically removed. He has since recovered, Kane said.
The park is holding a naming contest for the male hawk through Sept. 12. The public can submit their favorite names by emailing them to [email protected] or in-person at the park.
The park is also holding a Welcome Home party on Sept. 20 from 3 to 6 p.m., where several birds will be on display and speakers will discuss wildlife rescues.
Kane said the welcoming of the hawks to McGough is bittersweet.
"It's always exciting, in a sense, that you're getting new birds to become part of your family here … and then there's also that little bit of sadness because you know that this bird will no longer live in the wild," Kane said. "But you hope that they'll get their fulfilment in other ways … educating youth and adults."
Contact Taylor Goldenstein at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. Follow @taygoldenstein.
This article was changed to reflect the following correction: McGough Nature Park in Largo is holding a Welcome Home Party, where several birds will be on display, from 3-6 p.m. on Sept. 20. An Aug. 22 article about new hawks at the park had a different date.