Highway encounter by big rig turns into team rescue
Whap! Trucker Robert Washington fought his instinct to hit the brakes as his United Van Lines rig bore down I-84. The right side of his windshield had been hit—and hit hard. Washington was aghast at what he saw lodged between the windshield and the cab’s sun visor; in fact, he was convinced he would be in trouble with the law. For all appearances, it seemed he had just killed a member of an Oregon protected species.
Thirty miles down the highway, Washington pulled into OTE’s Boardman rest area. Assistant Rest Area Supervisor Jon Tucker was on duty and involved in a routine maintenance project. Washington asked for Tucker’s help and mentioned they needed to phone local law enforcement to relate Washington’s “crime.”
Tucker followed Washington back to the semi-truck. He climbed up a ladder to see if he could remove the feathery carcass, but when he touched the body, it moved. Tucker donned a pair of rubber gloves proffered by an onlooker and gently slid the hawk out from its prison underneath the cab visor.
Tucker explained what happened next. “After I got the bird out of the visor, it was frightened and struggling in my arms. Since I could not tell the extent of its injuries, I figured it probably wasn’t such a great idea to let it roam. The Good Samaritan who loaned me their gloves helped calm the bird down. I wrapped my jacket around its body to restrain it. By this time, Oregon State Police had called back to tell us they were sending a bird rehabilitation specialist to assess the situation.”
“Robert Washington was mightily relieved to hear he wasn’t going to be held accountable for the death of a protected raptor,” added Tucker. (Oregon law protects certain species of raptors, but accidental death or injury to a bird on the highway is not a punishable offense.)
After hearing from the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Pendleton that it would be three hours until their specialists could make it to Boardman, Tucker placed the bird in a cardboard box. When raptor-rescuers Linn Tompkins and her husband Bob arrived at the rest area later that afternoon, they found the red-tailed hawk sitting up inside the box with barely a ruffled feather.
A thorough examination performed at the rescue center showed no broken bones. However, the young raptor was feeling a bit punchy from anesthesia administered during the exam. The female one-year-old red tail hawk is expected to recover from her bruises over the next few weeks, and the center is hoping to return her to the wild during an open house slated for Saturday October 13th. The center has selected Tucker to release her at the event. Robert Washington’s employer, McCollister’s Transportation Company, should be proud of its conscientious driver, who kept his cool during a highly unusual highway encounter with an Oregon native.
Happy postscript for all
Amazingly, the hawk recovered and was released on October 13th during Blue Mountain’s annual open house. Aiding in the release was Jon Tucker, who opened up the crate and let her fly free. Photographer Thomas W. Earle shared his astonishing photo of the hawk soaring into the open as Tucker watched her sail away.