A Story of Resilience, Hope, and Joy

On September 29, 2019, Rosalie, an adult female Broad-winged Hawk that the Kittatinny Coalition sponsored as part of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s Broad-winged Hawk Project, was on her fourth journey south since being tagged in June 2016 at her nest site in the River of Rocks at Hawk Mountain.

Rosalie was tagged in 2016, but we are certain we have monitored her and her families since 2014, giving us six years of data on her nest success. Her nest was the one where we tagged two juveniles in 2014 that we then tracked to Mexico and Panama.  She seems to remember us since that intrusion and gives a healthy glare whenever she sees us.

During September 2019, Rosalie was heading toward Mexico with, the male from a nearby pair, Brady, paralleling her migration progress, flying slightly north of her but at the same pace (see map below, Rosalie in blue, Brady in yellow.) She was crossing Louisiana heading west towards Houston, Texas, when her forward movement stopped in a rural area called Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area.  Brady continued on south into Mexico but Rosalie’s transmitter showed little movement.

After a week, the Broadwing Project team got very concerned.  We tried to get some people out to search for the transmitter and possible dead bird.  Rebecca McCabe kept saying Rosalie might have dropped her transmitter… but we knew there were other more likely scenarios, especially when we learned this area was leased by a shooting club and it was hunting season, and we saw a huge power line crossing the property, both being possible threats for raptors.

The transmitter kept pinging for months, suggesting it might be in a tree or exposed perch.  Over the winter, after hunting season, we tried to get several people out to search and were almost successful with the very willing forest managers putting together a trip when the COVID abruptly ended communications.

So we waited with hope against hope that Rosalie would return and not be dead in Louisiana.

If Rosalie did survive her September ordeal,  she would have been heading to southern Peru for winter 2019-2020 where she spent the prior three winters (see blue above)—a distance of 5477 miles one way! Interestingly,  Brady, our one male we have tracked, had ended up paralleling her in winter too and settled just east of Rosalie’s winter home, which was also the area where two other PA females wintered in 2016 and 2017, Kinzua and Sadie.

Earlier this month during 2020 nest searching efforts, David Barber, found the River of Rocks nest site, east of the area Rosalie had nested in before.  But, we were not sure who was using the nest and scheduled some nest watching for this week.

On May 19th, Zach Bordner took the first nest watch assignment to observe the nest site to see if we could figure out if Rosalie and her banded mate were using the nest and had thus returned.  Sometimes it can take weeks or even more than a year to see a bird well enough to ascertain if it has bands or not, as the birds do not cooperate that often.

However, Zach persevered in his observations immediately texting the staff when he located her, “Rosalie is back!” He had seen her green band and silver band when she moved on the nest!

We were thrilled! And, I am amazed at her resilience to have survived that adventure for a fourth time and for getting out of her transmitter harness safely in the middle of the journey!

We had hoped against hope she had survived and now we celebrate that she, one of our original study birds, has returned to nest on Hawk Mountain once again!