Chris Barger sat in his county vehicle on a drizzly Tuesday morning, talking on the phone with Chattahoochee Nature Center. The week prior, he’d delivered an injured red-tailed hawk to the group and was calling to see how it was doing.
The verdict was plain to anyone who understands basic body language. The man sighed, looking down. The bird of prey had died.
Barger, a deputy first class with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office who specializes in animal control, is admittedly an animal lover. That’s why it’s hard sometimes doing this job.
For instance, this most recent case involving a homeowner who spotted the aforementioned red-tailed hawk, looking sickly in the backyard of their Old Atlanta Road residence.
“I absolutely love animals. I think hawks are very majestic, beautiful animals. I believe they are exquisite animals, and the fact that I have the skillset to be able to pick one up and take it and hopefully get it rehabilitated and possibly released, it makes my day. It’s why I do this job.”Chris Barger, Forsyth County Sheriff's Office
Rescuing and removing the bird from their backyard was the easy part. Delivering the raptor to Chattahoochee Nature Center — a private, non-profit environmental attraction in Roswell — well, that was also easy.
But, it’s difficult when animals die despite Barger’s best efforts.
“I absolutely love animals,” Barger said. “I think hawks are very majestic, beautiful animals. I believe they are exquisite animals, and the fact that I have the skillset to be able to pick one up and take it and hopefully get it rehabilitated and possibly released, it makes my day. It’s why I do this job.”
Barger said that animal control — a function of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office — “deals mostly with domesticated animals, so the only time we’ll actually assist with wildlife is if the animal is injured or endangering the public.”
He said that in the last four years, he’s assisted with four red-tailed hawks.
The problem, he said, is that there aren’t a lot of local “wildlife rehabilitators” who can house the animals that local animal control rescues.
This particular red-tailed hawk was discovered acting strangely in someone’s backyard in southern Forsyth County.
“Basically, the homeowner saw it on a stump of a cut-down tree … they noticed it was hopping and not flying. And, it appeared to be very underweight. When I arrived, it basically had its head tucked down in its wings, so you knew something wasn’t right. I called my supervisor, told him what I had and told him I’d like to take it to Chattahoochee. [Chattahoochee Nature Center] said they’d take it.”
Kathryn Dudeck, wildlife director for Chattahoochee Nature Center (and the person with whom Barger spoke on the phone with Tuesday morning), said when the hawk arrived it was very emaciated.
“He was pretty much all feather and bones,” Dudeck said, adding that only about 15 percent of raptors survive to see their first birthdays.
A raptor is a bird of prey.
“This [raptor] … the left side of his body was weakened, so he was either hit by a car or caught in the draft of a passing car,” Dudeck said. “Once they’re grounded by an incident like this, they will start pecking at dirt [seeking nourishment] and may pick up parasites.”
She said when Barger brought the hawk in, things weren’t looking good for the animal. The hawk died Sunday morning.
Barger said, in the case of wildlife, deciding whether or not to intervene is key.
“When we deal with wildlife … if the animal gets up and goes, then we let nature take its course. If we find an animal that’s injured, I have to determine, ‘can I safely handle it without doing more harm?’”
Added Barger: “Maybe this hawk died peacefully instead of being out in the wild where it could have been eaten or in more danger. Helping an injured animal … or at least trying to help. I love that. I love what I do.”