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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Orange-breasted Falcon-June 2003
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    ShareOne of the lesser studied falcons in the world, the Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus) is arguably one of the most beautiful. It is similar in coloration to the Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis), but has a shock of orange on its breast that the Bat Falcon lacks. It is also much larger and has proportionately bigger feet than its more commonly seen cousin. Orange-breasted Falcons (OBF) are swift fliers and feed on birds and bats which they catch on the wing. They regularly nest on cliff ledges, but have also been found nesting in epiphytes growing in emergent trees. OBFs usually lay between one and three eggs and chicks remain in the nest for about five to six weeks before fledging.

After conducting aerial and ground surveys for this species The Peregrine Fund recognized the need to begin a captive-breeding and release program for this elusive falcon that appears to be largely absent from suitable habitat throughout much of Central America. The first chicks were collected from Panama in 2001 and 2002. To complete our breeding population and to maximize genetic diversity among our captive birds, we are hoping to obtain the remaining Orange-breasted Falcon females from nests we are currently monitoring in Belize.

Join The Peregrine Fund biologists as they monitor and study this beautiful falcon.

June 2003—Marta Curti

We awoke before dawn and loaded our heavy packs filled with climbing gear, water, and food, into the truck and then clambered inside. Oscar Aguirre, who would be assisting us for the next few weeks, Angel Muela, and I were headed to Roaring Creek to check on the Orange-breasted Falcon nest we found in the area about three weeks ago. To reach the cliff where the nest is located, we have to walk for about two hours, often forging a stream waist-deep in some places.

This would be our third visit to the site. This time, instead of monitoring the nest from below, we were going to have to find our way to the top of the cliff so that Angel could once again rappel down and check the nest for females. (In order to complete our captive breeding population, we still need three female Orange-breasted Falcons). On our last visit, he was unable to descend to the nest because a swarm of Africanized bees had decided to hang out in the exact spot where we needed to set up the climbing gear. This time, we were hoping they had moved on.

We arrived at the trail head at about 6:30 a.m. We quickly ate a few bites, splashed on some sun screen, put on our packs and set off for what we knew would be a long day of hiking. Almost immediately we saw a fer-de-lance making his way slowly along the edge of the path and a turtle swimming lazily through the water. We continued along the trail that meanders in and out of the river, occasionally falling on the slick, moss-covered rocks that line the river bed. We passed an enormous cave filled with turquoise water and promised ourselves a swim if time permitted.

An hour and a half later (we were making good time) we arrived at the base of the cliff. It was time for the hard part. In order to reach the top, we would have to hike a pretty much vertical slope, at times walking on a thin ledge precariously close to a long drop. After about an hour of this, we arrived at a bramble of tree roots and vines that blocked our ascent. Here, we removed our packs. Oscar climbed up through this tangle first and we passed him the three packs. Angel and I then followed. When we finally arrived at the top, there was no time to rest. We quickly set about securing the ropes, double checking equipment, and triple-checking for any signs of Africanized bees. When we were sure that everything was safe, Angel rappelled down.

As he was descending, Oscar and I could hear the piercing cack cack cack of the adults, occasionally catching glimpses of them as they flew across the sky like bright orange bullets. Every so often they would land on a nearby branch and we had the opportunity to appreciate just how beautiful these birds are.

After a while, Angel returned to the top of the cliff empty handed. This particular nest had three chicks, but they were still too young to determine their sex. So, with nothing else to do, we packed up our gear and began to walk to the vehicle, knowing we would have to return to Roaring Creek once again, when the chicks were a bit older. On the way back, we stopped to enjoy a quick swim in the clear blue waters of the cave. Though we were tired, we were in good spirits. After all, even though the results of the day’s work were not what we had expected, a day in which one gets to see an Orange-breasted Falcon up close can never be considered anything but a success.

Find more articles about Orange-breasted Falcon, Neotropics

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