A Falcon’s Peregrination Through Recovery

As September drew to a close, on its last Monday, a young Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) was hit by a car on Samoa Boulevard (route 255) near the intersection with V street, just west of Arcata. Samoa is a highway notorious for its danger to our wild neighbors. Every day a casual survey will find the dead body of someone – a raccoon, a gull, a skunk, a coot, or an opossum – and who knows how many small birds are never seen, who’ve been hit and killed and thrown into the vegetation on either side of the road. Samoa Blvd is a ridiculous name for the route – it should be called the Wildlife Watchout.

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This falcon was spotted, alive, sitting by the side of the road. A kind-hearted man stopped and scooped the world’s fastest animal (242mph in a dive!) and brought him to our Bayside wildlife hospital, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

It is thought by some that Peregrine falcons got their name from people who captured them as juveniles who’d wandered from their nest site, since those nests were usually too remote to reach or even find. It’s not very clear if this is the case, and the source material is vague – but if accurate, since the theory alludes to falconry and the practice of stealing wild falcons and keeping them captive, then we have a parallel in our own time and place.

For many of the last several years, a Peregrine falcon pair have nested in high profile location near Eureka. Local birders and ornithologists tried to keep the site a secret to protect the falcon family from falconers who might try to steal a juvenile. As with the centuries old conjectured etymology, it would have been nearly impossible to reach the nest’s location, but as soon as the juveniles fledge (fly from nest for the first time) they would become easy targets. In fact, over the last few years HWCC has often been called in to give one or more of the young falcons a helping hand, since their first flights usually take them into the heart of downtown Eureka.

pefas-various-4-of-9A juvenile Peregrine Falcon in care at HWCC in 2012. This youngsters only problem was that her (or his) first flight from his nest landed her on Eureka’s waterfront. Too young to know better, she was easily picked up by a well-intended person and brought to us. After a day of observation to insure she was in good health, we returned her to her family.  

When we performed this Peregrine falcon’s initial examination, he (presumed male due to smaller stature) was in good health with the exception of a fractured right ulna. As fractures go, this is one of best he could have gotten. Whether bird, human, other mammal, even dinosaur, vertebrates with limbs have ulnas – it’s one of the many clues that we really are all related. The ulna is the thicker of the two bones, the other being the radius, that make up our forearm, extending from elbow to wrist. Since his radius was intact, it formed a natural splint. A couple of weeks spent with his wing immobilized, his ulna had a very good chance of healing – this bird’s prognosis for release was excellent.

pefa-2016-2-of-30Receiving  medicine during initial examination.

Keeping a fierce, wild being in a small enclosure for 2 to 3 weeks is risky – especially for the wild being. While his prognosis for recovery was good, in captivity, anything can happen – accidents with the housing, stress-related trauma – nearly every advance in the husbandry of our patients that rehabilitators have made has come at the cost of patient’s life. So with this in mind we provided a perch that would prevent pressure sores on the bottoms of his feet that can develop when a bird is grounded. We housed him in a soft-sided pen to prevent injuries to his unwrapped wing.  We kept him isolated from our noise and commotion to reduce the stress of being unable to put the distance between that he would have greatly preferred.

Every so often we checked the fracture site in order to track the healing process. At last, after 18 days, the fracture was stable with a well formed calloused around the break. We removed the wrap and moved the falcon to an outdoor aviary. To our great pleasure, he immediately burst into flight. All that was needed at this point was some time in the aviary for him to regain any lost strength and for us to make observations that let us know he would be fine upon release.

After 25 days in care, the falcon was ready to go.

pefa-2016-4-of-30Trying to evade the net while being captured for his release evaluation. 


pefa-2016-12-of-30Thinking outside the box!

pefa-2016-29-of-30A new volunteer on her first release – these moments are the joy of our work.

pefa-2016-30-of-30… back into wild, blue yonder …

While we wish every patient who’d been hit by a car that we treat could have such an awesome outcome, the truth is that it’s rare that anyone survives such an impact. But for wild animals, without someone stopping to get them help, and without people like you who support our work, none who are injured would survive. If not for you, this bird, and every other patient we admit, would have been an uncounted statistic of the damage to nature caused by civilization. Thank you for your support!

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All photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX