Winged Wildlife Rescues

Pipevine Swallowtail underwing, on cherry blossom
Pipevine Swallowtail rescued from cobweb
Pipevine Swallowtail rescued from cobweb

As gardeners, we learn to observe, don’t we? Our senses become attuned to the plants, the insects, the weather β€” life all around. And sometimes we notice life forms that need a bit of help.

Two notable examples happened last week.

An Encounter With a Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly | Battus philenor hirsuta

The first happened while I was walking through the garden, and happened to notice a pipevine swallowtail butterfly sitting on a low edge of a building. But upon inspection, it wasn’t just hanging out, it was stuck in an old spider web. 

So, to free it, I slowly nudged my finger under its feet, and it grasped onto my skin. Then I carefully pulled it clear from the sticky webbing. (Gratefully, the spiderweb architect was not in residence.) The butterfly seemed tired from its struggle, so while it recovered a bit on my finger, I took the opportunity for some (one-handed) photos.

For its longer recovery, I placed it where I had observed other pipevine swallowtails flitting around–on a cherry tree in full blossom. I hoped some nectar from the blossom cafe there would give it energy. It stayed put for awhile, which, happily for me, made for some of the best pipevine swallowtail photos I’ve ever had the chance to get. We checked on it later and it was gone, so hopefully it’s one of the many beautiful black butterflies we are seeing all around the gardens now.

Pipevine Swallowtail underwing, on cherry blossom
Pipevine Swallowtail under-wing, on cherry blossom

The pipevine swallowtails are very active at this time of year, and I spotted the first pipevine eggs this last week. There are still some chrysalises on the old shed. I hope our vines (aristolochia californica) are enough this year to feed all the caterpillars! I’m propagating some more. We don’t find it necessary to protect the caterpillars or pipevine swallowtail butterflies from birds. It is said that both are poisonous to birds and I’ve never seen birds taking any interest in them.

In Memory of a Red-shouldered Hawk | Buteo lineatus

The second winged-friend observation and attempted rescue occurred as we were doing some weeding in the garden. We were startled by a loud, three-shriek call of a hawk at close range. We looked up to see where it was, but it wasn’t in the treetops or sky above us, where they usually are. We continued with our weeding. Then, I happened to notice something unusual out of the corner of my eye. And there it was: a red-shouldered hawk, sitting on a branch, about a foot off the ground, not far outside of our vegetable garden.

Injured red-shouldered hawk on branch
Injured red-shouldered hawk on branch

It saw us and we were surprised that it didn’t fly away. Maybe it was on the hunt for something? We continued working, letting it go about its business undisturbed. But each time I looked over to see if it was still there, it was. This was unusual behavior. Its feathers did seem amiss, especially on its head. Finally, to get advice, I called the wonderful people at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. After consultation and questions, it was determined that it warranted a possible rescue. A capable staff person arrived and expertly and calmly secured it into a safe carry container. I was told that it looked like a possible head injury.

Injured red-shouldered hawk
Injured red-shouldered hawk

I was hoping for a full recovery and release back here, but a head trauma didn’t sound promising. I was glad that it was, at the very least, receiving good care and as much relief as possible.

I called back two days later, and was sorry to hear that it did not survive. So sad. However, it apparently had a leg tag from a federal government tracking program from 2008. I looked it up and the lifespan of red-shouldered hawks is apparently 15-19 years old in the wild. So it had lived a long life of over 14 years. The encounter left me with an memorable imprint and I’m honored that our paths crossed.

I want to give appreciation for the good people over at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. They are doing great work and helping so many animals. Check out the videos of the adorable resident bears, the stately mountain lion, and the raptors they’ve been able to re-release. I gave a donation to their nonprofit and you may wish to as well.


As we are discussing winged wildlife and rescues, it’s worth mentioning that tiny winged creatures sometimes need help too–like ladybugs and honeybees that fall into a birdbath or other water containers and can’t get out. To help them, I use a stick or my finger and gently (so as not to create a tidal-wave) submerse it under them. They readily grab on and can then be transported to a plant to dry off. In fact, I try to keep a stick or piece of flotsam in all standing water — as rafts for them to get up out of the water.


Let’s end with some amusing winged wildlife. Wild turkeys are common to see around here in Sonoma County, California. Something about them always makes me smile. Here is a flock that was guarding a road in a nearby town. One came up to the car to squawk as we slowly passed. Apparently I was trespassing on its property and I was glad I rolled the window up in time because it showed a strong inclination to requisition my car. πŸ™‚

Two crows discuss the day in oak at dusk
At dusk, two crows commune, perched in the old oak tree.

And coming to a close, let’s ponder the conversation of crows. I always wonder what they are saying. Like these two in the old oak tree at dusk. Are they discussing their day? I wish I knew. I’m sure their discussion would be quite interesting as they are very intelligent and keen observers. I often suspect they observe us humans much more than we observe them. There must be words for “Hey Frank, heads up! The human is taking out the compost right now.” Or, “The cherries two blocks over are ripe.” Maybe they are just sitting there in calm repose, reflecting together on the beauty of the sunset, of which they have a good view. πŸ™‚

Until next time, wishing peace and freedom and true happiness to all! -lisa

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7 thoughts on “Winged Wildlife Rescues

    1. Thanks! I was so tickled to get those shots of the pipevine swallowtail. Glad your vine is growing with fervor and hope you get some beautiful black butterflies and baby caterpillars soon!!!

  1. Glorious photos of the swallowtail butterfly! Such beautiful colours. There is a real concern here in France, and the rest of Europe, about the depleting numbers of butterflies; too many farmers still using pesticides even though the rules have tightened significantly recently.

    1. Thanks Lynne! Butterfly populations have decreased here too. Many gardeners in our area are making an effort to install and provide more butterfly habitat. Thanks for reading! I always enjoy your blog.

  2. That is such a beautiful butterfly! All the creatures are lucky if they stray into your garden as they get the best of care. I so much admire the people at rescue centres all over the world who give their time, often freely, to wild animals. Amelia

    1. Thanks Amelia! One friend was teasing me that I’m better with animals, small creatures and plants than I am with humans. haha. I’m an introvert. What can I say? πŸ˜‰ Yes, the rescue people are amazing. I watched one video of them rescuing a badger from a soccer net. Badgers are fierce and I was amazed how unafraid they were.

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