The condition of the great black hawk that suffered frostbite on both feet during a snowstorm this month has gotten worse, according to the wildlife rehabilitation center that has been caring for the raptor since it was found lying in snow at Portland’s Deering Oaks park.

The great black hawk being treated this week at Avian Haven.

Avian Haven reported Tuesday evening in a post on its Facebook page that both of the hawk’s feet, which suffered frostbite, have deteriorated markedly in the last 24 hours.

“It now appears that at least two toes on each foot will most likely be lost, and we are concerned that the overall viability of both feet has been compromised,” read the post by the wildlife rehabilitation center in Freedom.

Avian Haven said additional diagnostic tests will be done on the hawk’s feet Wednesday, and in theory one prosthetic foot could serve as a crutch for the remaining foot. The problem now is that toes on both feet appear to be affected by frostbite.

Passers-by found the hawk lying in snow Jan. 20 at Deering Oaks during a snowstorm that generated extreme cold. The bird was taken to Avian Haven for treatment. Avian Haven has posted daily updates on the hawk’s condition.

Several people have asked the wildlife center why the hawk was susceptible to frostbite when northern hawks seem to do fine in cold weather.

Avian Haven explained that birds that live in cold-weather habitats have a more elaborate heat exchange mechanism between their arteries and veins than birds that live in southern climates.

“It seems logical that a species native to a warm climate would not have the kind of mechanism needed for legs and feet protection from extreme cold,” Avian Haven wrote. “Also the very long legs of this hawk might have made it difficult to tuck a leg completely under the body plumage to protect it from the cold.”

Great black hawks are native to Central and South America. This one was first seen in August in Biddeford, and was later spotted at Deering Oaks.

Bird watchers still are not sure how it ended up in Maine, but every year birds like this one – called vagrants by ornithologists – fly outside their geographic range.

When it first appeared, Maine Audubon called it the most unusual bird sighting in Maine in 2018. It was only the second time that a great black hawk had been seen in the United States.

Avian Haven treats about 2,500 birds a year, making it one of the largest avian rehabilitation centers in New England.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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