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Orange Breasted Falcon Update
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    Share
Angel Muela observing<br />Orange-breasted Falcon male
Angel Muela observing
Orange-breasted Falcon male
Just off one of the many back roads in Belize, high up on a limestone cliff, lives a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons. We have observed them for two years now and they always provide us with an amazing show—streaking through the air at top speed after songbirds, stooping White Hawks and Black Vultures, or perching on a branch as the evening light illuminates the beautiful, colorful feather pattern of this rare species.

During one of our earlier visits this season, we were able to observe the male returning to the area with prey clutched in his large feet. He began to call and from some hole in the cliff face, the female responded. As we reached the shade, however, the light began to fade and we missed the food exchange that most likely would have revealed where this pair was nesting.

On our next visit, we arrived early and quickly located the male perched in a bare snag above the cliff. We waited as the sun rose, scanning the wall for the female. After a few hours of watching the male, who had not moved an inch, we spotted movement in a small hole just below where the male was perched. We quickly grabbed a scope and to our amazement and delight saw a young, three to four-week-old nestling gently flapping his delicate wings and looking out onto the world below! This discovery quickly set the wheels in motion and we began to plan to rappel to the nest the next day.

It was a vigorous, two-hour hike to the top of the cliff. We saw beautiful birds and even saw old pottery shards and human bones—remains of an old burial site. We scrambled up rock faces and slid down a few, all the while hoping to avoid coming into contact with the all-too-prevalent Poisonwood Tree that has been known to cause severe allergic reactions in those unlucky enough to touch one.

Orange-breasted Falcon nest cliff.
Orange-breasted Falcon nest cliff.

Orange-breasted Falcon chick.
Orange-breasted Falcon chick.
We finally made it to the top of the cliff by noon and set up the ropes. Angel descended to the nest first and got a close up view of this young Orange-breasted Falcon. After close observation, he determined that the chick was in fact a male. We remained only a few moments before continuing our descent to the bottom of the cliff, so as not to disturb the falcon too much.

A few weeks later, Angel and I returned to the site and were happy to see the young falcon, now a fledgling, flying side by side with his mother and, at least from our point of view, giving her a run for her money!

By the time Orange-breasted Falcon breeding season rolls around again, and Angel and I return to Belize, this young falcon will certainly have left the nest site and will be making his way in the world. Will he beat the odds (the mortality rate of juvenile raptors is high) and survive to adulthood? Will he discover unoccupied suitable territory with ample prey? Will he find a female and eventually produce offspring? We may never know the answers to these questions. But as I watch him travel swiftly through the sky under the careful watch of his mother, I, for one, feel hopeful.

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