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Orange-breasted Falcon Release Update
Erin Strasser — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    Share
Adult OBF perched at the cliff edge.
Adult OBF perched at the cliff edge.
Howler Monkeys pierce the early morning air, adding to a dawn chorus of Keel-billed Toucans, Carolina Wrens, and Brown Jays. A limestone cliff appears through a veil of mist as an adult male Orange-breasted Falcon with prey lands on a dead tree near the top of the cliff. Two hundred feet below, a falcon calls, and the male swoops down to meet his mate, expertly exchanging prey on the wing. The female eats her fill, caches the remaining prey in a mahogany, and returns to her eyrie on the cliff wall.

Such was an ordinary morning at our field site in western Belize where I and another biologist, Albert Ramos Guerrerro, spent two months observing wild Orange-breasted Falcons (OBF). From sunup till sundown we recorded falcon movements, vocalizations, prey captures and exchanges, and best of all, the development of three OBF chicks.

I arrived in Belize 4 April, 10 days after Albert. Each morning we anxiously waited for the female OBF to leave the nest, exposing the three eggs beneath her. Finally on 11 April at 9 am we observed one freshly hatched, pink chick. The second chick hatched 12 April, and the third, one or two days later. Unfortunately, we were unable to utilize the remote camera installed (see notes from the field March 2006) at the nest. Technical difficulties and swarming bees made Angel’s descent down the cliff face impossible.

Volunteer Albert Guerrero at the observation site.
Volunteer Albert Guerrero at the observation site.
The male dutifully brought his mate prey, exchanging it on the wing or in a tree. The female would eat and then feed the developing chicks at the nest. The male was able to obtain a wide variety of prey items. Most commonly, he returned with Olive-throated Parakeets or a bat plucked from the limestone walls, however he also brought a squirrel, Ruddy and Blue Ground Doves, and an Eastern Kingbird. As the young nestlings’ appetites increased, he was able to bring up to seven prey items a day and would sometimes bring the item to the nest. He truly was the devoted father.

We quickly noticed that the youngest chick wasn’t receiving much food. As the days passed and the two older chicks developed full coats of fluffy, white down, “Antoñito” remained pink and scrawny. In her desperate quest for food, she would topple onto her back, or was shoved aside, missing out on meal after meal. We observed helplessly, waiting for the worst. Miraculously the female began feeding “Antoñito.” Although she developed much slower than her siblings, she managed to survive.

The adult OBFs fiercely defended their territory against potential intruders. On two occasions we were visited by a second year, female OBF, and on another, a female Peregrine Falcon. Both adults would emit a series of piercing cacking calls, and would chase and stoop on the strangers. The male actually knocked the much larger Peregrine to the ground, forcing her to lose the pigeon she was carrying! The chicks began to vocalize with adult-like calls after about 25 days. The chicks routinely called at the ever present Black Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites, even though the adults did not. Turkey Vultures prompted fierce calls from both the adults and the chicks.

As the chicks matured and no longer required constant brooding, they began to venture further from the nest site. This afforded the female time away from the chicks, and also an opportunity to exhibit her magnificent hunting skills. We observed her with Scaled Pigeons and even a White-crowned Parrot. Gradually she increased her time away from the nest , allowing the chicks to explore their rocky ledge. Passing butterflies, bees, and the camera cable were of particular interest.

Volunteer Erin Strasser conducting behavioral <br />observations on nesting OBFs.<br /
Volunteer Erin Strasser conducting behavioral
observations on nesting OBFs.
>The second monumentous day arrived a month and a half after my arrival. Chick one (C1), a male, fledged (took his first flight) 27 May at 45 days of age. Chick 2 (C2) a female, fledged the following day at 47 days of age. A few days later, C1 and C2 began chasing one another around the cliff. We were unable to observe C3, or “Antoñito” fledge, however on 12 June, Albert and I returned to the cliff to find all three chicks had successfully fledged and were on the cliff, spreading their wings as an afternoon rain shower fell.

We can only hope that these chicks survive to breeding age. Chances are that some will perish, but with the continued efforts of The Peregrine Fund and their supporters, this captivating species may once again reach their former range.

Find more articles about Orange-breasted Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Neotropics

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