Master Sgt. Jason Schuler was hiking with his wife Sheryl and children in Dog Canyon on April 3, 2022 when something unusual happened.
Schuler said it was the first time the family had ventured along the trail in Olive Lee Memorial State Park as part of their exploration of Otero County following his transfer to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo.
“We came to part of the trail and some people coming down said there’s an injured bird ahead and we just said ‘oh, okay’ and continued on,” Schuler said.
Schuler said when his family came upon the bird on the trail they were unsure of exactly what species they were looking at and what its injuries might be.
“We didn’t know what was going on with it,” he said. “I could see there was dried blood, so I could tell it was injured.”
Sheryl Schuler called the local zoo to see if they could help as her husband attempted to wrap the bird in an extra jacket the family had brought along and pack it into a backpack.
“I’ve always loved the big birds, seeing them soaring in the sky. So seeing it hurt there, we just new we wanted to do something,” he said.
“It’s a huge bird. I saw the huge claws and huge beak and thought ‘O, man.’ I was a bit nervous when I was putting the extra jacket I had over it because I saw those.”
Schuler said the family hiked the bird back down the trail and transported it to the zoo — the family even escaped with a warning after being stopped by police on the way as they raced to make it to the zoo ahead of its closing.
Zoo officials thanked the family for its aide, identified the bird as Red-tailed hawk, and promised updates on its condition.
Red-tailed hawks are common in the U.S. recognizable by the “by the trademark reddish-brown tail,” according to the Audubon Society. It preys on small mammals, birds and reptiles, though its diet varies by season and location. Adults can weigh up to 4 pounds with wingspans between 3 and 4 feet.
The hawk, after being seen by an Alamogordo vet, was transferred to Desert Willow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Carlsbad in hopes it could be rehabilitated.
Robert Kasuboski, outreach coordinator for the Center, said the bird of prey had suffered from electrocution, an injury he said is not uncommon to wildlife in southern New Mexico.
“Desert Willow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, we take in sick and injured animals from around southeast New Mexico. We try to fix them up and send them back into the wild,” Kasuboski said.
The Center sees between 600 and 700 animals a year, Kasuboski said.
“It’s important to rehabilitate the animals and rerelease them,” he said. “It keeps the animals from suffering when they do get injured and helps sustain the natural populations as well.”
Schuler said his family gladly received updates on the bird’s rehabilitation from Desert Willow Rehabilitation Center.
They learned the hawk had regained weight and was possibly a female. And the family rejoiced when they learned it was strong enough to released back into its habitat.
On June 11, the hawk was set free at Oliver Lee State Park near the location where it was rescued. Schuler did the honors, opening the box and watching along with a dozen others as the hawk rejoined its natural habitat.
“It was pretty special,” he said.