Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

‘Black Hawk Down’: Tenacious woman answers distress call of the wild

A haunting cry in the middle of the night did not go unanswered – and thanks to that a young sparrowhawk survives another day.

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It was a strange sound — certainly in the middle of the night — and it awoke a resident of a central Durban apartment block.

“It was difficult to know where the sound was coming from,” Marble Arch resident Cate Rayner said.

“It sounded like some sort of bird of prey with a high-pitched call that echoed eerily into the night.

Rayner said the noise continued all night.

“It was pouring with rain and I decided that I would try to locate the source of the sound the following morning.”

Bird’s haunting cry hard to pinpoint

The next morning she promptly explored an area of bush and trees below her apartment block where she thought the sound may have emanated from.

“But I could see nothing. No bird in distress, no bird injured, so I thought, ‘well, it’s just one of those things’.”

There the story may well have ended there had it not been for Rayner’s determination to isolate the haunting sound she had heard the night before.

“The same thing happened the following night, although the crying sound seemed a little weaker and more faint. This time, I was not going to let it pass.

“There was a bird or birds in distress, so I took the day off work, parked my car near the bushy area and listened again.”

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Though the female juvenile black sparrowhawk was not injured, it was severely weakened and would unlikely have survived another night without intervention. Image: Supplied

Weakened bird’s mother tried to reach it

Several hours later, Rayner heard the same screeching sound coming from a dense section of bush.

“It was still pouring with rain, but in the distance I could just see a large bird standing upright on an old tree stump. Minutes later, another large bird swooped down and then up again into a tree.

“I realised it was a mother and this was her baby that she was trying to call. My concern was that it had a broken leg or wing.”

The next step was to contact the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) in Yellowwood Park on the outskirts of Durban to help with a possible rescue.

“By the time they arrived it was getting dark and the rain was coming down even harder. So again we had to wait another night.

“It was terrible listening to these distress calls from the baby and the mother, and I just hoped the baby would survive and other cold and rainy night without food.”

Early the next day, Zoe Dougall, a bird rescue expert from CROW, arrived with nets and other equipment and, after locating the bedraggled bird, was able to place a net over it.

Bird wouldn’t have survived another night

Once it was secured, Dougall identified the bird as a female juvenile black sparrowhawk.

Though the bird was not injured, it was in a severely weakened condition and probably would not have survived another night without help.

“The thought was that it had been blown out of the nest or ‘dispatched’ by its mother at too young an age,” Rayner said.

Young sparrowhawk making steady recovery

The good news is that the baby black sparrowhawk is now well on its way to recovery.

According to CROW, it will remain in a holding enclosure until it learns to fly and will then spend another few months being taught how to fend for itself in the wild before a final release in an area known to be a favourite of black sparrowhawks.

More about black sparrowhawk species

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A black sparrowhawk. Image: Supplied
  • The black sparrowhawk is one of the largest species of sparrowhawk in the world, measuring about 50cm in height, with a wingspan of a metre.
  • Adults are mostly black in colour, with some white on the chest, but this can vary dramatically between different individuals. Juveniles are a sandy brown colour with black specks.
  • These birds mate for life and will return to the same nest year after year to raise a new batch of chicks.
  • Sadly, like most other birds of prey, the black sparrowhawk, which has now become urbanised, is often hated and even killed by humans because of their natural hunting instinct and a particular liking for pigeons.

Awareness needed to protect birds of prey

Awareness, according to raptor researchers, is what is needed to protect them, as they are an important part of our eco-system and should be respected.

Also read: Meet the mystical wild horses of Kleinmond and hear their unusual story

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