Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Release Part II

Word arrives that one of the adult Red-tails isn't far away and we retreat to give the fledglings their first chance of being discovered.

Then a last look, at least for the moment, for we have Kestrels waiting to be released and start their new life. But where? I call James O'Brien,, as he keeps an eye on falcons around town and ask for his suggestions about good spots for release in Central Park.
Armed with his advice, we pile into the car with the carriers of Kestrels and head for Manhattan.
The Kestrel population is plummeting in most areas but that certainly isn't the case here in New York City. Perhaps if things don't go any better for them in rural areas, urban Kestrels may turn out to be a bastion for the species.

But on our way, we stop for a moment to look at the Triborough nest. It's protected from the weather but unfortunately the surface below is asphalt. It does face the green space of the park as per the usual urban Red-tail criteria but fledglings who don't make a good flight off the nest end up with a very hard landing on asphalt.

Back into the car, for the trip to Central Park. I'd looked into a carrier and seen 6 Kestrels and I thought that was the number to be released. But as it turns out there are at least a dozen that are leaving the Horvath's care today.
Why so many? Like many raptors Kestrels learn to fly from the ground up and as many are hatched in cavities under eves or in decorative material on buildings, the fledged young end up running around on the sidewalk. Sidewalks and streets not being very safe for little birds, no matter how feisty, they end up at rehabbers to learn their flight lessons. The taking of prey seems to be more a wired in function than a learned one in this species. After they have learned to fly and to take prey in captivity they are pretty much good to go.

First off, in case you ever need to hold a Kestrel, you hold them by their little fluffy thighs. And if the bird might be injured you use the other hand to gently hold the wings. Unlike Red-tails Kestrels do have a tendency to bite. Which makes sense as that is their mode of killing prey. I understand they can break the skin, but when I experimented, this guy just dented my thumb and didn't give nearly as hard a pinch as I get from my parrot when he's angry. But then my African Grey's beak is quite a bit bigger and capable of cracking nuts and this little guy isn't in the least interested in doing any nut cracking.
Adam Welz holds a male and a female just seconds before release. Interestingly for some reason this season according to Bobby, by far it is males that have been his patients. Of the Kestrels only two are female. And both Red-tail fledglings were male as well.
11:58:47pm Sadie pets the Kestrel.
11:59:02pm Bobby and Cathy give a mini-raptor talk to the kids that have gathered to see the birds.
Bobby gives the Kestrel to Cathy to release. I begin to notice that the Robins are pitching a fit all around us.

Then the strangest thing happens. The baby and the Kestrel began to stare fixedly at each other.
11:59:58pm Then while they stared the Kestrel made his ki ki ki ki call.
12:00:11 In response Sadie turned away and the Kestrel switched positions.

Sadie turns back and blinks. The Kestrel changes position again, still staring.
12:00:46pm Eventually Cathy raised her hand and released the Kestrel who like all of them, except the one who decided to land on my hat, shot off like a dart into the trees.
12:01:25 The kestrel goes in and the Kestrel comes out with an angry Robin in hot pursuit.
12:03:11 Then from somewhere to the east in the skyline I hear the call of a crow. He's taken up the harassment standard and the Kestrels like the Red-tails before them this morning have made their debut into the world of the urban wild. And most all of them would not have lived had it not been for the care of the Horvaths.
Donegal Browne


Yojimbot said...

Awesome post! Great job getting those birds back to Nature!!!



Donegal Browne said...


Thank you for your terrific imput concerning release sites! It was indispensible.

And may those Kestrels always have an infinite and handy supply of tasty grasshoppers to knosh on.