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Orange-breasted Falcon-March 2003
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    ShareMarch 2003—Marta Curti

Angel Muela and I arrived in Belize this March “wearing two hats,” so to speak. We came first to bring two young captive-bred eagles to their new release site at the Las Cuevas Research Station in the Chiquibul Forest. Once the birds and the volunteers were settled in, our next task was to search out and monitor any existing Orange-breasted Falcon (OBF) nests that we could find. Angel had already made a few trips to Belize so we knew where several OBF pairs were hanging out. It would only be a matter of time, of watching and waiting, to locate their nests.

The first nest we came across was located in a sink hole, formed long ago, by a collapsing cave which left a giant cavity in the otherwise intact forest. The bottom of the sink hole is blanketed by tall trees, and Black Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites are some of the species we saw soaring above this amazing landscape.

We arrived at the sink hole one morning in late March expecting to find the pair on eggs or, at the most, with very young chicks. As we scanned through the scope we were quite surprised to find two chicks approximately four weeks old! This meant we had to act fast.

In order to complete our captive breeding population, we needed four female Orange-breasted Falcons. The other five males and one female that are already at our captive breeding center in Panama, the Neotropical Raptor Center, hatched from eggs taken from wild OBF nests in Panama. In order to maximize genetic diversity, it would be vital to get birds from Belize. However, we cannot pull chicks from a nest when they are too young, as their sex is too difficult to determine. Once they are old enough to fly, or at the point just before they fledge, it is too dangerous and difficult to try and catch them. So, with a four-week-old chick, we did not have much time to spare

Angel had only just begun to teach me to climb and though I would not be rappelling down to the nest, it would be my job to belay Angel. We had a day to practice and get all the needed permits. The following morning, we packed up all the necessary climbing gear, including ropes, “figure 8s,” carabineers, harnesses, radios, and gallons of water and headed for the sink hole. It took us about an hour to set up the ropes and then Angel was ready to begin his descent. The plan was that we would communicate with small hand-held radios so I would know when to feed him more line, when he had the chick, when to pull the safety rope back up, and I would be alerted if he experienced any problems. Things went smoothly for about the first minute. Once he was just a few meters down the cliff wall, we lost all radio contact. He was down for about an hour and our only form of communication was to scream loudly at each other and hope for the best. Finally, Angel returned safely to the top of the cliff with a beautiful female OBF in tow. A few days later, Angel returned to Panama and I returned to Las Cuevas to continue work on the Harpy Eagle releases.

Recently, I received word from Angel that the young OBF was placed in a breeding chamber with a young male and that they are both doing well. It will probably be a few years before she and her new mate breed successfully, but I look forward to the day when we can release their offspring back into the forests these birds once called home.

Find more articles about Harpy Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon, Neotropics

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