Late in the evening, June 5 our facebook page for Humboldt Wildlife Care Center received a message. A paddle-boarder had rescued “a hawk of some kind” who had been struggling in the water of Humboldt Bay.
The next morning, right after we opened the clinic, the kind person brought in a young Peregrine Falcon.
After an examination, it was obvious that the bird must have fallen from the nest. Her primary feathers, which are needed for flight, weren’t grown in sufficiently for a fledgling – a real shame. She had no injuries except for dehydration and exhaustion from her watery ordeal. If she had been old enough to fly we could have provided her with fluid support and some nutrition then released her back to her family. But this bird was about a week shy of that and would need to go back to her nest, which we couldn’t accomplish, or we would have to raise the youngster until she was old enough to reunite with her family.
The young Peregrine Falcon in our purpose built aviary, the Merry Maloney Raptor House
A Peregrine Falcon is a very special kind of animal that presents steep challenges to successfully raise. While every species has its own advantages and unique characteristics, some animals represent the outermost limitations of life – the Blue Whale is largest, the Ocean Quahog is a clam that can live to be 500 years old, and the Peregrine Falcon can top 200 miles per hour when diving toward prey. Providing the environment they need to become successful wild adults is filled with special problems. Simply offering thawed mice and room to fly, while critical for her care, wouldn’t be enough for such a specialist to learn to how to survive on her own.
Learning to fly
Unfortunately, by the time our patient was flying, her family had already left their nest. In fact, we’d even responded to a call from a Eureka resident about a bird of prey exhibiting strange behavior near the Humboldt County Library. When we’d arrived on the scene we found an adult Peregrine Falcon (now saddled with a radio transmitter) protecting one of her young ,who had fledged from the nest and was still getting the hang of flight.
If the parents weren’t at the nest, and if we weren’t able to predict where they would be, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to re-unite this family after all.
Raising self-sufficient predators is a task best left to their parents. But if re-uniting wasn’t going to be possible, then we had to start planning for this one’s education. So we began developing the curriculum for our new course, Becoming a Peregrine Falcon.
She was doing quite well, regularly finding and eating the mice we provided, as well as developing better flight skills. In the middle of designing a method to simulate hunting ducks on water, which is one of the Peregrine Falcon’s specialties, both she and we got a lucky break.
While running errands, we saw the parent falcon near the nest site, days after having been sighted at the nearby library. Given that our patient had already demonstrated rudimentary hunting skills and that the parents were staying close to the old nest site, we seized the opportunity to release the young falcon with confidence that the bird would have ample time to rejoin her parents.
BAX/HWCC staff rehabilitator, Lucinda Adamson, captures the falcon for release.
Last Saturday, after 2 weeks in care, we took the falcon to the area where we’d last seen the adult. We chose a spot where she would have plenty of opportunities to hunt while waiting for mom or dad to show up. When the box was opened the bird jumped out to the ground, took a quick look around, then launched into flight. The bird crossed the water, making a beeline for the library.
From the car as they followed, our release team was able to see the youngster flying toward an adult Peregrine Falcon, who was up above the library building. The two birds immediately began calling to each other and circling nearer. Less than ten minutes out of our hands, this wild family was together again.
The parent falcon, in a photograph enlarged many times
The young falcon in flight, far from our team, close to her parent.
Thanks to the support you provide, Bird Ally X/Humbodlt Wildlife Care Center helps keep wild families together all over the Redwood Coast, and beyond. Thanks to your support, this falcon will learn to be a falcon from the best in the business, her mother. If you want to help us directly feed our predator patients, you can support us through our supplier of frozen rodents at Layne Labs, with a gift certificate, or you can use the donate button on this page. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work!
all photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X