Well, this blog entry is a fun one to put together. First, I just want to say how sweet it was to get photos of Peregrine 568 in the sun and not under the clinic lights. For new readers, this bird has some history in the blog. At the end of September in 2007, I was co-leading a trip to Duluth for hawk migration with Stan Tekiela. We stopped at my buddy Frank's hawk banding blind and they were in the process of tending to this bird--she flew into the nets with a broken leg. Since our group was only up in Duluth for the day, we offered to take her back to The Raptor Center in the Twin Cities for treatment. I volunteer there and was able to follow her progress. The vets at TRC said that based on the color of her bruises, the injury was three to five days old--incredible that she was flying around trying to hunt with that injury for a few days! She's had many ups and downs with her treatment, from having to reset the improperly healed fracture to many bouts of bumblefoot. But now the fracture has healed, the bumblefoot has subsided and after being at TRC for about 11 months, she's about ready to go. For a bird that's been in treatment that long, she needs to be test flown to make sure she's physically strong enough to live in the wild. The vets down in clinic graciously allowed me to tag along with the Flight Crew to test her skills (did you know you can volunteer for Flight Crew at TRC?)
They grabbed Peregrine 568 from her recovey cage and took the bandages and padding off her toes. To keep her bumblefoot at bay, she has been given boots made of padding and duct tape to wear. Birds naturally slough off dead skin in the wild on rough perches. TRC tries to mimic that in clinic, but when a bird has a foot or leg injury, and tends to stand on one foot more often, bumblefoot becomes a problem. For flight, she needs those the boots off so the crew can evaluate not only how she flies, but how she lands, and if she stands naturally on her feet.
After the boots were removed, they put jesses and a leash called a creance on her. The flight crew needed to test her wings outdoors on the University of Minnesota Campus and the creance allows her to fly far away, but they still have hold of her so she doesn't get loose before she is ready. The creance is kind of like a fishing line and pole. They let her fly, but after she lands, they can reel in the line as they walk towards her. The jesses are made of lether and wrapped around right above the toes and is the best way to keep hold of her without injuring her.
True to Peregrine 568's feisty nature, she bit the flight crew while the jesses and creance were placed on her. She's wearing a hood which is supposed to keep her calm and prevent her from biting...she apparently didn't read that in the falconry manuals.
One of the vets, Lori Arent told me that she had "imped some new feathers" onto Peregrine 568's wings. This is an ancient falconry technique of replacing damaged/broken feathers with feathers from another bird of the same species that has died--a feather transplant, if you will. Rather than waiting for the bird to grow in new ones when it naturally molts (sheds old feathers and grows in new ones) this allows a bird to leave clinic sooner. The imped feathers will molt out naturally. What's interesting what that Lori did not have to imp any feathers on the tail, a sheath has prevented the falcon from damaging any of those when moving in her cage.
We walked out and Terry on the flight crew let the peregrine fly. If you saw the video earlier, you could see that she did VERY well. If not, here is another video and you can hear the feisty falcon vocalizing before they let her go.
Again, I highly recommend going to the YouTube page and clicking on the "watch in high quality" button for the full effect of her magnificent flight.
Check out that blond head--a clue that she is a tundrius subspecies of peregrine falcon. After all that work, she was panting hard. Unlike humans, birds do not have sweat glands and must pant to regulate body temperature (like dogs). The crew had a squirt bottle handy to keep her cool. They sprayed her feet and even sprayed in her mouth to help keep her hydrated. Here's a video:
You can also go to the YouTube page and click on "watch in high quality" to see it in better detail.
After five flights, it was time to go back to the clinic for one final check. Lori was very pleased with 568's progress and is anxious to get her out before the bumblefoot comes back. Because the peregrine is a tundrius and migratory and because she was found 182 miles north of the Twin Cities, she has to go back towards Duluth to be released. Arrangements are being made at this moment.
The little padded duct tapes boots were added for good measure. Note the ice pack on the tail? That was to help cool down Peregrine 568 during her final exam after all that flying in the hot sun. Lori took one more X-Ray just to make sure the fracture was stable after the test flying. All looks good.
So, if all goes well, in a few days, I'll post photos of her flying away. For good. I have to admit, I've never really wanted to follow a clinic bird in the blog because it would be a bummer to follow her and have her die. I was even more reluctant with a foot injury, but this has turned out remarkably well. And though she's been in clinic a long time, she could still have another 10,12, maybe even 18 years ahead of her.