Perched atop a tree branch draped between two walls in a small flight room, a red-tailed hawk at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center stared intensely into the eyes of the few humans standing in the room.

Although just a few feet separated the predatory bird from the humans, the 1-year-old bird did not attack — its razor-sharp beak and needle-like talons were not a threat.

That’s because this animal — believed to once have been kept as a pet — was too familiar with humans.

Back in August, the bird came to the center weighing a bit more than 2 pounds. It had been found on a street in Cleveland with plastic ties around its ankles and its flight feathers cut. It was dehydrated and emaciated, and animal welfare workers said it was obvious that someone tried to keep the hawk as a pet — illegal in Ohio under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“Putting plastic ties on an animal to use as a leash is a pretty horrible thing to do especially to a natural predator like a red-tailed hawk,” wildlife rehabilitation coordinator Megan Tadiello said. “You can never fully replicate what is in the wild. There are instructs a bird of prey has to learn just by being in the wild that cannot be duplicated in captivity.”

Still, Tadiello took the first step toward reversing the animal’s dependence on humans for food and sparking its natural predatory instincts Thursday when the bird was released into an outdoor flight cage at the Bay Village educational center.

This comes after weeks of extensive rehabilitation to hydrate and nourish the underweight bird as well as several procedures where the cut, damaged flight feathers were pulled to encourage the growth of healthy feathers.

“It’s so hard to say comfortably how long this will take. This is a bird that has never been in the wild, but we’re not giving up on it,” Tadiello said. “All we do know is that a hawk that cannot hunt for food will not bode well in the wild.”

After spending weeks in the small outdoor cage at the science center, the hawk will be released to the Medina Raptor Center, where it will be released into a larger flight cage and introduced to the thrill of hunting live rats.

In the meantime, the animal will learn further not to trust humans.

“We will not harm the animal or give it the same poor care it received, but we will limit our time with it,” Tadiello said. “It doesn’t even have a name. You name pets, and a red-tailed hawk is not a pet. It is a wild animal and it’s time we returned it to the wild.”

The Ohio Division of Wildlife is investigating to determine who had the hawk. Offenders can be fined up to $500 and possibly face six months in jail.