Dead Hawk's Last Meal Claws Partway Out

Tornado Science, Facts and History

A hawk was found dead along a California highway with the claw of a songbird protruding from its chest.

It's not clear, however, if the partially digested meal, one claw somehow managing to get back out from a terribly wrong location, had anything to do with the hawk's death.

On the evening of Sunday, March 30, Julia Di Sieno of the Animal Rescue Team in California noticed the dead sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) while driving a sick night heron to the Solvang Veterinary Hospital. Sharp-shinned hawks are birds of prey and considered stellar hunters. They are the smallest hawks that reside in the United States and Canada.

"So I did a U-turn, put on my gloves and picked the bird up, and immediately rushed him to the vet where he died in my hands," Di Sieno told LiveScience. "Upon examination, we noticed that there was a small bird claw protruding out of its chest."

A pouch in the hawk's chest area called the crop had ripped open and the songbird, which had been a meal for the hawk, was spilling out.

"We removed a good portion of this bird [the songbird], which was partially digested," Di Sieno said by telephone yesterday. The hawk had apparently just finished downing what might have been a sparrow, she said. "He [the dead hawk] even still had down feathers and meat on his beak."

Birds of prey, like sharp-shinned hawks, typically leave behind the legs and head of their avian meals, Di Sieno said. Perhaps this hawk's failure to do so was the reason Solvang hospital vet George Bertram got such a sight — something he had never seen in his 25 years of practice.

News of the strange hawk death was first reported by Noozhawk, a Web site in Santa Barbara.

However, Di Sieno said she is not sure how the hawk died or what caused its crop to burst open.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.