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A New Pair of Orange-breasted Falcons Found in Guatemala
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    ShareOf all the raptor species that I have had the good fortune to work with, the Orange-breasted Falcon (OBF) is truly one of the most captivating. Its bright plumage, almost awkwardly large feet, and its aerial speed and agility coupled with the fact that there is still so much to learn about its behavior and habits, makes it a fascinating species to work with. At the same time, this falcon’s habitat, which consists of sometimes remote cliffs surrounded by dense Neotropical forest, makes it a very challenging species to study. While some of the nest sites are very easy to access; others require much longer, more strenuous hikes, and some are only reached by helicopter.

Adult Orange-breasted Falcon
Adult Orange-breasted Falcon
Apart from studying the known pairs, a big part of our job is to continually search for new, previously undiscovered pairs. We have spent countless hours driving long distances, wading through rivers, or bushwhacking through forest to reach remote cliffs, often times coming up empty handed. But once in a while, we get a lucky break and that is exactly what happened just a few short weeks ago.

Yeray Seminario and I had been in Guatemala for about a week – checking the five known OBF pairs in the Peten region. We, along with a biologist from Tikal National Park, Oswaldo Chi Dubón, were at one of the more accessible nest cliffs, which is about a two-hour drive from town on a rutty dirt road that is only passable in the dry season. We had left our hotel at 4:00 in the morning to arrive at the site during the early morning hours. We had been there for some time, quietly observing the adult falcons and the young that had recently fledged, when a local man drove up the dirt road on his motorcycle and, curious as to what we were doing, stopped to chat. I don’t think they see a lot of foreigners on that road. We explained that we were looking at birds and, as luck would have it, he casually mentioned that there was another cliff similar to this one, not too far away.

It was still early in the day, and though we had to be at another site that afternoon to band some wild chicks, we decided to go check it out. On this road, traveling just a few kilometers can sometimes take a half an hour or more, because of the bad road conditions, but it took us only 15 minutes to get to the cliff, which was 3.2 km. away. This was our second stroke of luck – this section of the road was, surprisingly, very well maintained.

Orange-breasted Falcon cliff
Orange-breasted Falcon cliff
Upon our arrival, we saw that the cliff wall itself was much smaller than the nearby site, but it looked promising. We planned to wait at the site about two or three hours to see if we would hear or see any falcon activity. Well, we hadn’t even finished setting up the scope when we spotted a bird perched on a small tree at the top of the cliff. Looking through the scope, we confirmed that it was an OBF—most likely a male. However, because this site is so close to the other, we couldn’t rule out that the male from that cliff was simply hanging out over here.

Less than 15 minutes later, we spotted another bird perched on the opposite end of the cliff. Once again, with the scope, we were able to confirm that it was another adult OBF—the female! About an hour later, we saw her fly to the wall carrying prey in her talons. She entered a small crevice and we could see her tail feathers bobbing up and down as she pulled small pieces of flesh from her prey to feed to her chicks! In less than two hours we had found a new cliff, spotted both the male and female and located the nest! This is virtually unheard of!

What makes it all the more astounding is that it was completely unexpected. We did not set out on that day to look for or find a new pair of OBFs. In fact, we had believed the area to be at capacity!

One more surprise from a truly surprising species!

Find more articles about Orange-breasted Falcon, Neotropics

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