Nic Beach is still “in shock” after a special guest joined him and his clients on a nature tour Sunday off the coast of Hilton Head Island.
“He was obviously struggling and I didn’t have the heart to leave him,” Beach said. “I didn’t have gloves on hand, so I just had to do with what I had.”
Beach said the large bird was trying to use its wings “like paddles” to stay afloat, but he didn’t think the hawk could make it much longer. He’s not sure how the bird was hurt, but guessed that it was injured somehow while diving for prey and striking the water.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
“I know a bit about birds and I know hawks are land-based and aren’t meant to be swimming in the water like that,” he said.
So Beach carefully approached the floating hawk and plucked him out with his bare hands.
“He seemed pretty shocked, but he was so chill,” Beach said. “He just kind of froze and let me scratch his back and belly while he sat there next to me.”
Beach then contacted a SCDNR agent to alert them to the injured animal.
“It was going to be an hour or so before SCDNR could meet us at the marina, and I didn’t want to stop the tour for my customers, so I continued the tour with him,” Beach said.
“So we did the tour over to Harbour Town and he just chilled right next to me,” Beach said. “I’m still in shock after being so close to a bird that big.”
Beach said the hawk, who they named Rick, was 2-feet-tall with a wingspan longer than 4 feet.
When the tour was over, Rick remained calm and “hung out” next to Beach while they waited for the SCDNR officer to arrive at the marina. Beach posted a video of Rick patiently sitting next to him as they cruised through the Calibouge. In the video, Rick would occasionally look at Beach, the way a dog looks at its owner.
“DNR was super helpful, I felt better knowing they were taking him somewhere for rehabilitation,” Beach said. “I’m always in awe with birds and wildlife in our area and to be that close with a bird of that size — it was a great day for sure.”
David Lucas, spokesperson for SCDNR, confirmed that the bird was taken to wildlife rehabilitator Nancy Owens in Beaufort.
Once there, there was one more surprise.
Owens identified ”Rick” as likely a young female. She said the bird is expected to make a full recovery, but “is thin and dehydrated, both of which can result from not catching enough food, as well as things like lead poisoning, parasites and diseases.”
Owens said the hawk is “alert, aggressive, with wings and talons working well.
But had Beach not spotted her in the water, she may have been heading toward hypothermia and death.
When Beach heard about the condition of his new bird buddy (later renamed Rickelle), he said it was “the best news ever.”
He posted a video to his Facebook that documented the dramatic rescue.
“Amazing save!” one commenter said.
“Hawk whisperer,” another said.
Red-tailed hawks are commonly spotted in South Carolina during the winter and are one of many birds of prey protected under state law, according to SCDNR.