Feature Stories

The Professor and the Hawk: A Story of Good Will: A Professorís Encounter with a Red-Tailed Hawk

Professor and the Hawk: A Story of Good Will


One recent afternoon, Chuck Brooks, an adjunct professor, was walking through campus when he was approached by two NJIT students. One of them, Justin Dedio, told Brooks that an injured hawk was sitting on a nearby sidewalk. Dedio wanted to help the hawk, but wasn’t sure what to do.

Brooks walked over to the bird, which sat motionless on the sidewalk. Its wings were covered with ice – it had been sleeting that day – and a smear of blood tainted its brow.  He identified with the hurt bird. He too didn’t know how to help it, but of this he was sure: The sun was sinking and the temperature plummeting. If the hawk spent the night outside, it would surely die.

So he improvised. Brooks, who is also the assistant to Fadi Deek, the dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts, returned to his office. He found a box, whose bottom he covered with cloth. He put on a pair of gloves, grabbed the box and walked back outside. The hawk, too hurt to fly, was still there. He tiptoed toward it, stooped down, and gingerly placed it in the box. It was a red-tailed hawk, he noticed, a bird commonly found in thickly-wooded areas. But since development has destroyed most such areas in the state, thought Brooks, the birds have been forced to subsist in the city.

As he carried the box up to his office, Brook’s remembered the time, a year ago, when walking along the campus green he looked into a grove of trees. There, sitting on a branch, was a pair of hawks. He stopped to watch them, marveling at their menacing beauty. Then he noticed that one of the hawks was nibbling on a pigeon. He was fascinated to see red-tailed hawks surviving on the campus green. 

The sight also reminded him of Pale Male and Lola, the pair of red-tailed hawks that three years ago became New York City celebrities. The pair had made a nest on a ledge of a Fifth Avenue co-op building, whose inhabitants demanded the nest be destroyed. That led to an outcry of criticism from naturalists, bird watchers and the thousands of citizens who loved the birds. Pale Male and Lola survived and eventually became the subject of an award-winning film. 

Thinking these thoughts, Brooks entered his office and placed the box in a corner. He tried to be still and not to startle the bird. He sat at his computer and searched online for a veterinarian, one who might tend to an injured hawk. After a few searches, he chanced upon the Raptor Trust, a wild-bird rehabilitation center. He called and talked to Leonard Soucy, the trust’s hawk expert. He told Brooks to keep the bird warm and calm. If the bird survived the night, he added, Brooks should bring it in the following day. 

Brooks, heartened, hung up. He viewed the Raptor Trust’s website, and was touched by its philosophy: “The Raptor Trust believes that all living things are important and if, because of human activity, injuries befall wild creatures, humans have a responsibility to help heal the injured creature.” Precisely, thought Brooks, as he logged off his computer, packed up and went home for the night. 

When on the following morning Brooks arrived in his office, he was apprehensive. Would the hawk be dead or alive? He turned on his light and peered into the box. The hawk cocked its head and peered back at him. Brooks smiled. He called Soucy and told him he was bringing the hawk into see him.     

Michael Tress, the administrative coordinator for the Humanities Department, volunteered to drive Brooks and the hawk to the Raptor Trust, in Millington, N.J. When they arrived, Soucy saw that the hawk was a baby, whose yellow eyes hadn’t yet turned brown. After their first year, Hawks’ eyes turn brown. The bird didn’t appear to have broken bones, Soucy said. But he’d need to stabilize it before he could make a diagnosis. If he could rehabilitate the hawk, Soucy said, he’d drive it back to NJIT and release it on the campus green.  Brooks left the Raptor Trust feeling good -- with a sense of hope. It was a Friday afternoon, and he told Soucy he’d call him first thing Monday morning.

But when on Monday morning Brooks phoned the trust, his hopes were dashed. Brooks summed up what Soucy told him in an email, which he sent to colleagues in the Humanities Department -- colleagues who had visited the hawk in his office and, like him, became bewitched by its beauty.  Here is his email:

Hello all,

I’m the bearer of sad news. I talked to Len Soucy of the Raptor Trust this morning, along with the specialist who attended the injured red-tailed hawk we took there Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, our bird died about 24 hours after arriving. He had multiple abrasions and bruises, respiratory stress and blood in his trachea, all of which indicated severe impact injuries. His feathers were also “greasy,” which could have impaired his ability to fly. He was cleaned, administered IV fluid, and kept in the intensive care unit Friday night. But he died Saturday morning. Thanks to Mike Tress for driving us out to the Trust. We made a strong effort to save the bird, met some good people, and learned a lot in the process.

Chuck

Dean Deek, who was copied on the email, replied with one of his own -- a few lines that bespeak the good will that Brook’s extended to a hurt creature:

Chuck,

I am sorry to hear about the hawk. But it is comforting to know that the bird was well attended to in its last moments, thanks to you and others who cared.  

Fadi 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)