Poisoned Hawk Receives Life-Saving Transfusion

Above, Dr. Stephany Lewis monitors the blood transfusion she is administering to a female red-tailed hawk poisoned by anticoagulant rodenticides that were causing it to bleed out internally. Photos courtesy of California Wildlife Center

A red-tailed hawk has received a second chance at life after receiving a blood transfusion. On December 3, 2019, California Wildlife Center received an adult female red-tailed hawk with evidence that she had been poisoned by anticoagulant rodenticide, which prevents blood from clotting. 

“She likely became exposed to the rodenticide by eating rats or mice who had ingested the toxin,” a press release from the CWC states. The hawk had multiple bruises on her body, was actively bleeding through a pinpoint puncture wound on her toe, and was severely anemic. The small amount of her blood that was drawn did not clot even after several hours.

The hawk’s prognosis was poor. In 2019, California Wildlife Center treated 44 patients suffering from rodenticide poisoning and only six survived using conventional treatment methods. 

California Wildlife Center veterinarian Stephany Lewis decided the patient’s best chance of survival was to receive a blood transfusion. She used another healthy adult female red-tailed hawk as a blood donor. 

The red-tailed hawk receives blood from a healthy adult of the same species.

“The hawk slowly received the donated blood through a catheter,” Lewis explained. “She began to perk up towards the end of her transfusion and started to nibble at the line. The hawk successfully completed her blood transfusion and is now on fluids, also being given through her catheter.” 

“Birds do not have any naturally occurring antibodies to blood types, so they can safely receive a blood transfusion without typing or cross-matching,” Lewis said. “In this case, the transfused blood not only provided life-saving oxygen and nutrients to the hawk’s cells but also replaced some of her clotting factors that had been inactivated by the rodenticide. The result is that it will stop the bleeding that is occurring while waiting for the vitamin K antidote to rodenticide to take effect, which takes 12-24 hours.” 

Since the transfusion, the Hawk’s prognosis has been upgraded to good. She will continue to receive vitamin K treatments until the poison leaves her system. Once the Hawk is eating on her own, she will be moved from the Intensive Care Unit to an outdoor enclosure for the remainder of her rehabilitation before she is returned to the wild. 

One day later, Lewis’ patient is alert and responsive again. This was the California Wildlife Center’s first emergency avian blood transfusion, a technique the rescue hopes will help other raptors survive rodenticide exposure.

This is the first time such a procedure has been done at CWC. “We receive dozens of raptors suffering from rodenticide poisoning each year and are hopeful to add this life-saving technique to our means of helping animals, Lewis said. 

Despite a concerted campaign to ban the toxins by wildlife advocacy groups like Poison Free Malibu, anticoagulant rodenticides remain a major cause of death for wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains and throughout the county. AB 1788, an assembly bill authored by Santa Monica Mountains area Representative Richard Bloom that seeks to restrict the use of this class of pesticides statewide, will be voted on later this year. 

California Wildlife Center (CWC) is dedicated to the protection, rescue, and rehabilitation of native California species. Since 1998, CWC has seen more than 52,000 animals. Staff and volunteers field more than 30,000 phone calls from the public every year regarding injured, ill and orphaned wildlife, nuisance wildlife, and other, more general inquiries about encounters with wildlife in LA County. For more information visit www.cawildlife.org


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

  1. So glad to read this article! I have worked with raptors and wild animals for years, as volunteer at a rescue center and I always advocated against common pesticides. Thanks Dr. Lewis!

    A little error to report: at the end of the article, you refer to a link: “For more information visit http://www.cwc.org“, which unfortunately, brings to “Center for workplace compliance” and not to https://cawildlife.org/, which is the website for the California Wildlife Center!

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