Good Morning everyone.
Up until last night my diary was going to be about our five species of North American falcons - but I ran into serious technical difficulties with the DKos Image Library, and could not find the answers to the problem, so at the last minute I decided to start over, using the old-fashioned Flickr upload method, and a more personal diary.
Eyes in the Sky (EITS) is a Wildlife Education Program of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. I am the program's director. EITS features seven birds of prey that can no longer survive in the wild, but serve as wildlife ambassadors for the Santa Barbara Community. Our program depends on donations, and your support is greatly appreciated. Here is a link (at bottom right of page)
Here are the stories of the three Peregrine falcons that have come through my life, and have taught me more than I can express to you in words, so I hope the pictures will fill in for me. This work is hard on the heart, but the love continues to grow and overcomes the hurdles. I am eternally grateful for their presence, and what they have taught me.
This diary is for everyone, so please DO share your own bird pictures below! I really want to see what everyone has been up to. Thank you.
We adopted our first Peregrine falcon back in 2001. Sedona crashed into a picture window while pursuing a pigeon in Sedona, AZ. The pigeon died on impact, and Sedona ended up with a severely damaged wing. She spent 9 months in rehab before her adoption. When she arrived, she had a severe case of bumblefoot (inadequate perches in rehab) and we had to spend months treating this before it was cured. Sedona was an adult of unknown age, and lived with us for 8 years before she died suddenly and explainable. Due to her age and handling history, she retained her wildness until the very end.
Bumblefoot treatment in 2001 consisted of digging out the scab of each foot sore, disinfecting it, and then wrapping it first with gauze, then duct tape (ordinary vet wrap didn't work, as that Peregrine beak makes short work of it). The treatment had to be repeated 3 times per week, and went on for months. Needless to say that Sedona had a hard time learning to trust after this. Current bumblefoot procedures are far less invasive, but that's what we had back then.
Sedona soon discovered a perch she liked in our back yard. It was five feet up in a pepper tree, on the flat surface of a sawed-off branch. Notice her full adult plumage.
Because we worried about her not getting enough exercise due to her badly damaged wing, we invented a way - swimming her in our former seabird pond. At first she was reluctant, but within a week she began to enjoy it. On top of the exercise, her feathers improved a great deal from the multiple baths and preening afterwards.
Volunteer Coni swimming Sedona
And a nice meal of quail (dead).
One night in 2008, Sedona died suddenly and unexpectedly. A necropsy found no cause of death.
In 2010 we adopted Angel. She had been hit by a car, broken a wing, and recovered 90% of her flight ability, but that's just not good enough for release. With aerial dives at speeds of over 250 mph, 90% won't do, as accurate minute adjustments are critical. And just in case you don't know, Peregrines are the fastest animals on earth.
You can see her wing droop after a period of exersize outside.
She was a magnificent bird (picture by Adam Lewis)
In the house with me.
Her first time standing on the glove. Unlike Sedona, although she also was a full adult, Angel was always eager to do new things, and she learned fast (although the expression on her face indicates otherwise). She progressed very rapidly.
Outdoor bath time - pure abandonment and joy.
Spectacular bird! (picture by Adam Lewis)
Flight exercise - her right wing droops ever so slightly - oh how I wished she could have gone back into the wild. (pictures by Adam Lewis)
Tragedy and Heartbreak!
Angel had been with me a mere three months when it began to rain, and rain, and rain. Three consecutive heavy storms came through our area, and Angel had to stay indoors (with me). After four days tethered indoors, on December 23rd, 2010, I felt really sorry for her, and untethered her to allow her to fly in the house.
I should have known better. She immediatelly checked out all the high places: shelves, the refrigerator, the top of the entertainment center. Everything seemed to be fine until I heard glass breaking, and saw that she had broken through the window, and was sitting on the fence outside. My son, who was in the house with me at the time, said he saw a dove fly off the fence outside the window just as Angel had crashed through the window. By the time I had walked outside, she had flown off. The next 8 days were spent looking for her. During the first few days, I located her several times in our neighborhood, but since I had fed her so well, she was not hungry enough to come down to the glove. As time went on, sightings became few and farther apart, even though local birders and our volunteers were on the lookout for her.
Then, on New Year's day at dawn I woke up to the sounds of many crows. That had happened the morning before as well, and I had seen a "murder" of crows dive-bombing a Palm tree a few houses away from me. A raptor flew out of the palm tree, with the crows in hot pursuit, but it happened so fast I could not get an ID. I did drive around for the next few hours, still hoping for Angel.
But this New Year's morning, I wanted to take no chances of missing her, and got up faster than ever in my life. This time the raptor was sitting high up in a Eucalyptus tree close to my house. Again, the crows dive-bombed it, and it flew off again. This time I was sure it had been Angel - attempting to come back. I spent all morning driving around the neighborhood in larger and larger circles.
At 2 PM I got a call from an old friend and former volunteer. She told me she had been to the beach with her two young children, and they had found the body of a Peregrine falcon with leather jesses. She did not know about Angel, but when she brought it to me - it was Angel - and she had starved to death.
One hour later I received another call, one I wish I hadn't answered. A local falconer had seen Angel that morning, perched on the freeway wall near his house less than a mile away from me. He noticed the jesses (leather straps) on her legs, and went inside to get his glove and some meat to retrieve her. Just as he stepped back outside, a semi-truck roared by, and Angel, startled, flew across the freeway towards the beach. I am barely able to write this. It still feels as if it had just happened yesterday.
It is often so tempting not to do this work anymore, but my love for these beautiful beings keeps me going. Education is a critical component of their conservation, and teaching with a live bird up close is more powerful and lasting than any photo, book or video.
So life went on, with a huge ache in my heart that is still with me. A few days later I called the rehabilitator that had placed Angel with me, to let her know what happened. We both grieved, but she also let me know that she had another Peregrine that would not be releasable. This one had been gunshot, with a bullet still lodged near her shoulder. The veterinarian had decided to leave it in to avoid any further damage to muscles and tendons in that area. Kisa was adopted in March.
No, this is not a tiny butterfly, but a piece of quail stuck on her beak.
She was only 10 months old, and stood on the glove on the third day.
On her training perch, with a resident Black-crowned Night heron visitor (we have a colony in my yard).
Kisa bird watching in the yard.
Hopi Elder Alan Talayumpewa gives Kisa her name. Kisa is the Hopi word for "Bird of Prey".
Kisa goes on field trips in the car.
Kisa eating mealworms from Bonnie's hat. Since Bonnie started that, Kisa nibbles on everyone's hat.
Kisa outside our our new aviary the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.