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Orange-breasted Falcon Release Update
Yeray Seminario — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    Share
Female Orange-breasted Falcon <br />perched near hack box.
Female Orange-breasted Falcon
perched near hack box.
Four days ago, one of the Orange-breasted Falcon’s (OBF) released in Belize gave us a gratifying surprise. The female called AB, 108 days old, captured her first avian prey.

The day began like any other, with the falcons continuing their aerial games around our camp in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, when suddenly we noticed that AB was carrying something strange-looking in her talons. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was an Acorn Woodpecker, a species that is plentiful in the area. After landing on a dead tree, AB devoured the woodpecker with delight, while the youngest female, AM, got closer and closer, looking with curiosity to see what strange thing AB had managed to capture; AM even dared to steal two or three pieces of meat from AB, who didn’t seem bothered at all by having to share her catch. Although we have witnessed the younger falcons attempting to hunt little and medium-sized birds, so far they have been unsuccessful. However, we are confident that they will follow AB's example very soon.

After all, these falcons do not learn to hunt overnight. Learning how to hunt and mastering basic survival skills involves a long process that, as hack site attendants, we get to witness every day. The falcons generally spend a good amount of the daylight hours in play. They chase each other at vertiginous speeds, catch branches and pine cones that they release and catch again once, twice, or even three times in the air. This playing can last more than two hours. At the same time they are playing, they often also catch many big, flying grasshoppers in the air, which they eventually eat. They have the astonishing capacity of flying at high speeds between the tree branches that surround our camp. Sometimes they seem almost to touch the ground, or fly so close to us that the only thing we can do is look at them, amazed and entranced by the magnificent show we are witnessing. Although they might use up a good amount of energy in these flights, it seems they've learned to take advantage of cliff winds in such a way that they don't need to flap; gaining altitude to fall afterwards in impressive stoops.

Orange-breasted Falcon chasing off a vulture.
Orange-breasted Falcon chasing off a vulture.
All of this game playing that the falcons do together seems to be part of the natural learning process through which young falcons develop their senses and hunting skills. Without their parents to teach them, this learning process could, perhaps, be slower in our captive bred birds, but undoubtedly these games appear to be a good substitute for any parental guidance they may have otherwise received. This only enhances our beliefs that releasing several falcons at a time is very important, and probably increases their survival rate. Apart from their group playing, another good example of their collective behavior is when they are in the presence of predators, which are numerous in the Neotropics; Stygian Owls and Black and White Hawk Eagles can be found near the release area, both of which are potential predators for the OBFs.

Black and White Hawk Eagle
Black and White Hawk Eagle
I remember one hot afternoon, when I heard something roar past as if cutting the air. What I thought was a jet turned out to be a Black and White Hawk Eagle, doing an amazing stoop from great heights, trying to catch one of our falcons. Fortunately our falcons avoided the hawk eagle and immediately began to stoop at him and chase him out of the area. These days my fellow hack site attendant, Aldo, observed how the falcons get close to each other when they perceive danger, as the frightful and beautiful hawk eagle can be. Undoubtedly, this behavior is another little step on the way to survival.

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