Kalamazoo man makes daring rescue to save hawk trapped on Niles golf course

NILES — When a red-tailed hawk hunting for its supper last Saturday collided with a net at Hacker’s Golf and Games, it became ensnared more than 40 feet in the air and its outcome for rescue looked bleak. 

The Department of Natural Resources was notified of the situation and they called Aimee Pico, from the Lake Milton Raptor Education Center, a bird rehabilitation and education center, to help rescue the bird. Pico said she knew it was going to take a special kind of skill level to get the bird safely back to the ground.

So, she called Roy Elsholz, a friend, fellow bird lover and a skilled electrical lineman, who is no stranger to scaling poles and trees of dizzying heights. 

Elsholz, 43, of Kalamazoo, has worked as a lineman for nearly 20 years and is now a supervisor for a company called ITC. The raptor center has called him in the past to utilize his knowledge of falconry, but Elsholz this situation was particularly unique.

When he arrived on the scene Sunday morning, the bird had been trapped, dangling by its leg for more than 24 hours. Elsholz was not the first to analyze the situation, and others who looked at the bird did not see a way to get him down, but as Elsholz peered up at the trapped bird, rather than seeing an impossible circumstance, he said he saw an opportunity.

“Another lineman went out there to look at it and said there was nothing he could do for it,” Elsholz said. “I took it as a personal challenge. As linemen, our jobs are never easy.”

Elsholz busted out his lineman gear, including a tree climbing belt and hook. He then set to work climbing a pole that the netting where the bird was trapped was attached to. When he reached the top of the pole, he was able to unhook some of the netting, which allowed him to pull the material holding the bird closer to him. Once the bird was within reach, he freed its trapped leg and tied a rope to it.

Pico said it was important that the bird not escape, as it was presumed to be injured and would likely need rehabilitative care before it could function again in the wild.

Once the rope was attached to the bird, Elsholz began gingerly lowering it to the ground.

Up high, precariously latched to the pole, Elsholz said the feat was just as challenging as it had looked back on the ground.

“It was a huge pain in the butt,” Elsholz said. “The net is really a lot heavier than it looks and it acts like a big sail and every time the wind blows there’s a gust of wind blowing it.”

The operation took more than two hours to complete, including the time Elsholz had to spend scaling back up the pole to re-attach the unhooked netting.

Still, Elsholz could not help but feel a sense of victory for finding a way to rescue the hawk.

“I was pretty happy,” Elsholz said. “I figured if I had the means to try and help it, I would.”

Pico said the adult male hawk was in relatively good shape considering the trauma it had been through. As predicted, the hawk had been injured enough to warrant time in rehabilitation. The animal was weak from being trapped so long, Pico said, and eagerly wolfed down the food he was given shortly after his rescue.

The hawk’s leg that had stuck suffered cuts, bruises and soft tissue damage. Pico said the bird’s middle toe suffered some circulation loss and may need to be removed, but it is too early to tell.

Pico said the bird likely became entrapped while hunting for prey in the woods just beyond Hacker’s. The bird could need to spend up to eight weeks being rehabilitated, but Pico said there is a good chance that they will be able to return to the bird to a wild.

At the Lake Milton Raptor Education Center, injured birds are rehabilitated with the ultimate goal being to get them fit to be released back into the wild. If the bird is too impaired to have a good like in the wild, they become residents at the education center and help to teach youth about the birds.

Pico, who has worked in the field for years, said she had never seen a rescue quite like this one. In no time, she said she expects the bird to take to the skies once again.

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