First release of captive-bred Orange-breasted Falcons (Part 2)
Marta Curti— 30 July 2007 — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project ShareIndependence Day
On 4 July 2007, we released the first three captive-bred Orange-breasted Falcons (OBF) into the wild. The release site is located on George Headley’s “BullRun Farm” property in the Mountain Pine Ridge area of western Belize. This property, and the adjacent Hidden Valley Inn (which is generously providing us with room and board during the duration of the release period), are a raptor’s (and raptor-lover’s) paradise. Wild Orange-breasted Falcons, Stygian Owls, King Vultures, Laughing Falcons, Bat Falcons, Plumbeous Kites, Swallow-tailed Kites, Pygmy Owls and Roadside Hawks are all seen more often than not. Blanketed in scattered pine forests, which are currently on their way to recovery after a very damaging pine-bark beetle infestation a few years ago, and crisscrossed by crystal-clear streams and plunging waterfalls, the area is abundant in small birds and insects – perfect prey for young Orange-breasted Falcons just learning to hunt.
In 2005, we used this same area as a release site for two young OBFs that hatched from wild-laid eggs. Due to the success of this experimental release and the high quality and logistics of the site, we decided to conduct the releases in the same location this year. The three falcons that were placed in the hack box on 27 June were ready to be released by 4 July.
Volunteers Erin Strasser and Yeray Seminario and I woke up at dawn. We fed the three younger chicks in our care that would not go into the hack box for another week (see Notes from the Field, June 2007). Then we got everything packed up and headed out to the hack site. One of the Hidden Valley Inn managers, Flavian Daguise, also came out to witness the release.
At 0930, I opened the hack box door and placed a large piece of cardboard in front of it, to keep the birds from exiting before we were ready. While I was doing this, Erin placed the falcons’ food on the tower. I sprayed down the falcons with water, since having wet feathers calms them some and reduces the risk that they will fly off immediately. I was afraid that the birds would not like the experience of getting sprayed, but they loved it. As soon as I turned on the gentle mist, they all spread their wings out, flapping them vigorously, and bathed in the spray. After Erin finished placing the food, and securing the door open, I removed the cardboard and scrambled down the ladder behind her. We joined Yeray in the blind and waited.
Though it would be one more week before all three birds fledged, each day was eventful and full of surprises. We watched as the falcons continued flapping their wings in preparation for the amazing flights they would soon be doing, or followed after Female AB, who fledged the day after release, and kept us on our toes as we tried not to lose sight of her as she flew from tree to tree. I even had to gently coax one of the younger falcons onto my hand and carry her back to the hack box, since she apparently flew before she was ready and was having a hard time making it to a high perch on her own.
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