In Eyrie Visits on May 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm
We have been working on this for some time. Each year, peregrines nest on a ledge beneath the Richardson Bay Bridge (Hwy 101 just north of the Golden Gate). And each year the nestlings fledge from their ~40 foot high nest into the bay. I will not bore you with the logistics of climbing to a ledge above water supported by smooth concrete pillars, or the permitting bureaucracy that has made accessing these birds even more difficult. The good news is that this nest successfully fledged all its young this year–with a little help.
To begin, our observers sat like trolls beneath the bridge for a month or more to finally pin down the date when food started being delivered to the ledge–indicating young had hatched. We calculated when they would be three weeks of age and coordinated with CalTrans–they provided a boat–and set a date for collection that coincided with a high tide to float our boat. This is what the young looked like when we went for them:
We delivered them to our hack site on an agricultural portion of the UC Davis campus and fitted them with dummy transmitters. With a week to pull on the transmitters, they finally forgot about them so that we could replace the dummies with the real thing on release day. Here they are going in to the release box at 35 days of age:
Release day came one week later. By then, they knew of the box as a place to find food. With a little luck and a proven release technique, the falcons would stick around while learning to master the sky and eventually catch their own food. Here we are preparing them for release.
Almost one week after release I am happy to report that all are still in the vicinity of the hack box and coming in to eat the quail we provide every day. We expect dispersal to wild independence in about one month.
In Raptor Rehabilitation on April 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm
Relaxing after this morning’s flight.
Instead of putting him on a fencepost and driving a distance away to call him, I released him from my fist like a falconry bird. Holding him high, I removed a strong homing pigeon from my vest pocket and tossed it into the wind. SFO took off after it like a shot but was soon bested and circled back upwind toward a fencepost. Knowing his plan I released a second pigeon–this time a weakling.
He continued to the fencepost as the pigeon struggled to get its bearings. It was a “squeaker” or newly fledged pigeon. SFO stood on the post craning his neck around to watch the pigeon for about five seconds as it swung around in the stiff breeze and started to drift downwind. He correctly assessed it as a catchable bird and went after it with a vengeance.
I stood in the huge meadow and began to feel really small as the two of them headed for the horizon. I lost sight of him against some trees and saw a red-tail gaining interest in the weak-flying pigeon when I lost sight of the pigeon too. I jogged through the deep green grass to the location of my last sightings of both birds and began swinging the lure. Great. Nothing. Now I was half a mile from the car without the telemetry receiver to lead me to the peregrine so I started jogging back toward the car. Was he standing on the pigeon taking a big meal? Was the red-tail standing on top of him?
I chastised myself for not being prepared to look for him, but hey, I have never been in that position because he always flies to me. (Let’s face it–I have the food and he knows it). As I dug out the radio gear I happened to notice that a peregrine falcon was standing on a fencepost not far away. How could I have missed him? How did he make it all the way back beating in to a 15 knot wind? Did he remain in the air the whole time? All I know is that he returned to where the flight originated before I did.
Here is an important thing to remember: wild raptors have all experienced hunger and do not want to experience it again. Falconers take advantage of that by demonstrating over and over that we are an easy mark for a meal. Raptors cannot help but chase what they assess to be a catchable prey item when hunting with us, but when unsuccessful, they do the next best thing to get fed–return to the falconer. Once capable of catching food regularly–and given the opportunity to leave–wild raptors forget about the falconer and reclaim a life in the wild. SFO does not “like” me, he “uses” me to get fed. I have calmed him to the point where he will stand on a perch for resting and make long flights to me at mealtime, but do not believe for a minute this is the life he prefers. When full of food he demonstrates his disdain for captivity by bating from the perch. He pierced my upper and lower lips today at release because he must have a little clumsy and lost patience as I struck the braces on his hood. And he was a little edgy at pick-up on the lure most likely because I have been pushing his weight up in recent weeks. I have probably found a weight he should not go above if I want to hang on to him until he is really ready to make it again in the wild.
It has been three months since he was shot. In no way do I think he is ready for release but I do think he may respond favorably to more work in the field.
In Raptor Rehabilitation on March 29, 2013 at 11:54 am
It was foggy along the coast and at the first coastal bench where I usually use a pasture for exercising flights. I proceeded further up to the second coastal bench where I found sunshine. There are no fence posts at the higher meadow so I took out the car perch and set it on a little rise.
By the time I got the telemetry on, the fog was creeping across my grassy flat. About 150 yards out SFO started to come (not because he loves me but because he knows I have the food) so I pulled out the lure and swung it. Instead of dropping it for him, I swung it toward him then pulled it. He made a little circle up and away and came back past. I pulled it one more time and then dropped it for him. Two passes–I was impressed.
The lure was prepped with a quail wing and a little bit of breast meat so I picked him up with the lure and let him finish before putting him down on a little bush and hurrying back toward the other side of the meadow. The fog was still hanging and again, he came before losing a view of me. I pulled the lure and watched him pull up from ground level to about thirty feet while looking back over his shoulder. I’ll keep pulling the lure so see if I can keep him in the air longer. I would call this slight progress even though he still holds his wing funny and still has a long way to go.
His last flight was less impressive. I set him up for the 2/10ths mile flight across the lower pasture–he perched 5 times on fence posts as he made his way toward the lure. I liked that he was able to plant clean landings on the perches but did not like that he could not seem to make the whole distance.