Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rehabilitated Raptor Release Part I

Bobby Horvath with a Triborough fledgling.
I'd asked Bobby Horvath, the wildlife rehabilitator who most often gets the call when the police or Animal Control end up with injured birds or misplaced young raptors, if I could tag along on one of his releases of rehabilitated animals. He called on Tuesday with an invitation for the next day's release and I jumped at the chance. As I've just passed New York State's written exam for Wildlife Rehabilitator, I was ready to learn as much as possible from the man who's done so much of it in the last 15 years. He does know his stuff.

Bobby said we would be releasing two fledgling Red-tails to the pair who have the nest on the Queen's end of the Triborough Bridge. He had also treated the female of that pair for poisoning at the end of last year's breeding season and now babies were coming back to her from this season. He definitely has a history with this family of hawks and if it weren't for him, this area might well not have a resident Red-tail family at all.

And he said, beyond the Red-tail youngsters, he had a number of Kestrels that needed to go back to the wild as well.

Next morning off I went to Queens. When the car pulled up Bobby was there but also his wife Cathy, another rehabber, daughter Sadie plus cat carriers of Red-tails and Kestrels.

While Bobby dons the baby carrier, Cathy holds an eyass in her right arm and Sadie in her left. Cathy has done much of the care for the birds to be released today. In conversation I find out, that like myself in childhood, both she and Bobby came home with every stray or injured animal they ran across.

The group begins to gather, Jules, the main observer of the Triborough nest, the park rangers who watched over the grounded and dehydrated eyasses as the construction was so loud that the parents couldn't hear the begging and therefore were not cued to feed plus photographer Francois Portmann and film maker Adam Welz--hawkwatchers all.

Sadie goes into the baby carrier and Bobby pulls out the Red-tail leg gauge which shows which size leg band is best for a bird.

The gauge also denotes the likely sex of the bird by leg size, though some sizes are relegated to both as there is an overlap between male and female size.

There is a park adjacent to the bridge nest, and as we walk Jules points out which trees the parents have been known to roost in and some of their favorite perches. We're in search for a good multi-leveled clump of trees for the fledglings to wait for the adults to appear.

A park ranger one of the young bird's saviors is given the honor of placing him in the chosen tree. Another ranger has brought along a ladder.

It's set up and the releasing ranger climbs it.

Up the eyass goes to a likely branch, unfortunately for the ranger the bird doesn't have a good grip, comes down on his neck and then uses said neck for a springboard to a branch on the left. The fledgling gets a grip and gives a satisfied wiggle of his tail.
And immediately flap hops up the tree.
The first takes stock and orients himself.

In the meantime the second has begun to hop flap up a tree as well.

He takes stock, orients and both head for the top.

By now, number 1 has gotten to some thinner twigs and is wobbling.
And the "magic" of little bird magnetism to fledgling raptors once again holds true. The surrounding trees begin to fill with Robins and Mocking Birds all scolding the offending youngsters.
While the youngsters begin to notice the irate smaller birds, Jules explains that this area has a very nice rat population. We've also seen squirrels and pigeons in the park and it does seem a very nice place to spend one's hawk adolescence learning the tricks of the raptor trade.

Jules has emailed the folks that use the dog run over the hill and let them know that the young raptors are back. She says they are very cooperative, and now that they know, they won't give into the temptation of allowing their dog off the lead in the park due to the possibility of young Red-tails on the ground.

The workers tending the area are told what is going on and the park rangers say everyone will keep an eye on the two fledglings.

Head popping out of the top of this tree, the fledgling gauges what it will take to branch to the next taller one.

Now the mighty hunter.

Now the Robin's victim.
And so they go, higher and higher. Having each had a full eight mice for breakfast, both are interested in investigation rather than food at the moment.
Continue to the next post for PART II


Roe said...

If you want to be truly successful rehabilitater of birds of prey you need to look to your local group of falconers for standards and advice about keeping raptors healthy.

Generally speaking the standards for housing and keeping of birds of prey for rehabers is inadaquite and lower than the rules falconers adhere to.

If you want to house and rehab BOPs properly then you will need to learn some basic falconry techniques like creance flying to build muscle as well as examples of what a good mews looks like. Some rehabers will tell you that creance flying is unneeded, but I would say that it is a requirement for any bird that has undergone a serious injury. How well would you be able to survive in the wild after you had a major surgery without having undergone physical therapy? Creance flying is an excellent form of physical therapy for these animals when done correctly.

I don't know anything about the rehabers in NY, but nationwide rehabers have a bad reputation among falconers because they tend to do the bare minimum for the animals in their care. This may not be the case in NY, but if you are planning on becoming a rehaber then please work for a positive change of this perception and do more than the average rehaber is willing to do. Also if you do decide to get in touch with falconers in your area try not to get discouraged if at first no one responds to your requests, it's hard for other falconers to get "in" to a new community of falconers so it may be exceptionally hard for a non-falconer to get in.

The best thing would be for you to find a falconer that is also a rehaber to learn from.

I'm a falconer out of Idaho and I'll always be glad to answer any of your questions, or pass them along to more experienced falconers in my area. I myself am new to falconry, but if there is any doubt about the wealth of knowledge that falconers hold on BOPs just remember that Falconers are the only reason we have Peregrine Falcons in this country.

Anyway sorry for the rant, glad to see that someone else cares about these animals as much as I do.

Donegal Browne said...


It's always good to hear all the opinions from those with different outlooks. Thank you.

Having had much contact with Ohio's John Blakeman who is also a falconer, I am familiar with the huge contribution that falconers made in teaching scientists how to go about helping Peregrines and other endangered raptor species continue on Earth. They were indispensable. It most likely wouldn't have happened, or at least not nearly as quickly without them. And as we know with endangered birds, quickly is beyond important.

I'm taking you up on your "ask you questions" offer.

What is your take on what is necessary in housing and flight cages for the proper care and rehabilitation of Kestrels?

Roe said...

Honestly the Federal Regulations for housing falconry birds are a good starting point for most species. If you start with the minimum that it recommends and then go as large as you have room for then you will be doing well. Honestly for kestrels I personal wouldn't build a mews smaller than 6x6x6 with a nice window made from steel conduit at least 3x3. There are a lot of opinions on how best to house a bird but there are a few that are agreed on by most people.

Never use any form of wire in the enclosure. Even if the wire is covered in plastic it is still a danger to the birds.

Every mews should have at least one window, however 2 work better to allow for air to circulate better.

The birds should have a high "safe" perch out of the path of the air and out of the view of the windows so that it can escape the attention of anyone/thing outside.

When it comes to size of the mews, generally bigger is better, period. So just build it as large as you have room for.

These are just a few of the things that I think are generally accepted as being best practices. There are many, many books on this subject as well as several online discussion forums that will provide a lot of additional information.

Again I can't stress enough, don't use wire of any kind for this enclosure. It should be smooth walled with barred windows.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the Park Ranger's neck when the hawk landed on it?


Donegal Browne said...


The Ranger's neck was a tiny bit scratched but the skin wasn't actually broken. After all his neck was only used as a springboard not a perch.

Now we know the reason for those Smoky the Bear hats. Not only do they keep the rain off, they're stiff enough to be used as a perch in a pinch.