Rare leucistic red-tailed hawk rescued, released back into San Benito County

Rare leucistic red-tailed hawk rescued, released back into San Benito County

SALINAS – A 14-year-old red-tailed hawk is back in the wild thanks to SPCA Monterey County. But if you find yourself looking for the little guy, don’t go following any bird with a cinnamon-red tail. Instead, keep an eye out for a flash of white.

Earlier this month, the SPCA Monterey County Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center responded to the unique hawk, found on the ground in San Benito County. The bird was thin and unable to stand, the SPCA said in a press release Wednesday. He also suffered from parasites and had a large bruise on his chest.

The injuries stood out against his pale coloring.

Though classified as a red-tailed hawk, his feathers were uncharacteristically muted. That’s because he has a rare genetic condition called leucism.

Often mistaken for albinism, leucism causes partial loss of all types of pigmentation, leading to white coloration. A tell between leucism and albinism is that leucism does not affect the pigment cells in the eyes, whereas albinos generally have red eyes.

The leucistic hawk found by the SPCA was 14 years old, putting him on the older side of red-tailed hawks’ typically 20-year lifespan. The SPCA knew the hawk’s exact age from a band on his leg, attached in 2009 by a research biologist out of Seal Beach, CA.

The hawk underwent 11 days of specialized care. SPCA Wildlife Center technicians provided pain medications, fluids, supplemental heat and supportive care to get him back on his feet. By this week, he was able to fly and hunt on his own, and on Tuesday, he was released back into the wild where he was found.

Every year, the SPCA Wildlife Center rescues more than 2,500 injured or orphaned wild animals. This work is made possible through donations. Contributions can be made at SPCAmc.org/donate.