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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
First Release of Captive-bred Orange-breasted Falcons (Part 1)
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    ShareArriving in Belize

There is never a dull time to be involved in The Peregrine Fund’s Orange-breasted Falcon Project—from hiking up rivers to observe an established pair of Orange-breasted Falcons (OBF) to rappelling down steep limestone cliffs; from locating a new nest to watching a female OBF gently feed her downy chicks—there is always something to be learned about this elusive, little-known species that makes our work so rewarding.

Volunteer, Erin Strasser, beneath completed hack tower
Volunteer, Erin Strasser, beneath completed hack tower
However, I can honestly say that in my four years of working on this project, there is no time more exciting than now. For the first time in history, six captive-bred Orange-breasted Falcons will be released into the wild. But, before this can happen, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Angel Muela, the project coordinator, and myself, have spent the past several months planning and preparing for this event. From recruiting volunteers to work as hack site attendants, to obtaining all the import and export permits needed to bring the falcons and their food supply into Belize, to buying needed equipment and making several trips to Belize to get the release site ready, we felt that the moment would never come.

The falcons, bred in a special facility in Sheridan, Wyoming (USA), were scheduled to arrive in Belize on 25 June. I arrived in Belize a few days early and met up with our volunteers, Erin Strasser and Yeray Seminario. We spent the few days before the falcons’ arrival making last minute preparations. Finally, the day arrived. We drove to Belize City and met the falcons at the airport. The birds ranged in age from 19 days to 40 days old. All but the oldest were covered in various amounts of downy feathers. After working our way through customs, we placed the two kennels that housed the six birds into our vehicle and headed to our base, the Hidden Valley Inn.

Orange-breasted Falcon chicks on their first day in Belize
Orange-breasted Falcon chicks on their first day in Belize
We arrived late in the evening after a two and a half hour drive, much of it on a beautiful, but dusty, bumpy road that winds through the pine forest. We quickly placed the kennels in a small room that we had prepared specially for the falcons’ arrival. We hand fed the birds and let them rest for the night.

The following morning, most of the birds had already exited their kennels and were busy exploring their new surroundings. Some ran around the room hopping from log to log, others picked at the towels we had laid down for them, and one stripped a small piece of bark from the log and spent many, many minutes “attacking” it with her beak and feet.

Falcons, like all raptors, have very keen eyesight and are attracted to what may seem like the slightest movement to us. During the short time they spent in the room, before their placement into the hack box, we watched them as they carefully observed a moth fluttering around the room, or as they tilted their heads slightly to watch loose down feathers float to the floor. At one point, when we turned on the ceiling fan to cool down the room in the mid-afternoon, all six falcons stared at the fan and began to move their heads in circles, in sync with the rotating blades!

On the second day after their arrival, we placed leg-mount transmitters on the three oldest falcons and placed them inside the hack box – a specially designed aviary located in the middle of the pine forest. They would spend one week in the hack box, getting used to the sights and sounds of their soon-to-be new home. The three younger chicks would remain with us for approximately one more week before being placed in the hack box.

Orange-breasted Falcon chicks in the hack box
Orange-breasted Falcon chicks in the hack box
After we made sure all six falcons had fed, we headed out to dinner ourselves. As we walked the short distance from our cabin to the inn’s dining room, I couldn’t believe that the falcons had finally arrived and that in just one short week, the first three would be flying free in Belize. But, thanks to the cooperation and support of The Belize Zoo, the Belize Forestry Department, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, and the owners and the managers of a lovely resort called Hidden Valley Inn, we are that much closer to being able to fulfill this long-awaited dream.

OBF Release Notes-Part 2

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