It takes a village to save a peregrine

In the October 17, 2015 Block Island Times I wrote in our column, Ocean Views, a story about an injured Peregrine falcon found on Block Island. Following is the edited text of that article; at the end you will see the updates on its progress.

     On October 5th I received three different phone calls/messages about an injured ‘hawk’. The first call from Norris Pike, - which I could not take because I was in the bank - described a large hawk on the porch of a house that he is building on the west side. The second call, from Donn Frageau, asked if there was anything I could do? I retrieved the third message at home later that evening from Steve Miller, he was also casting about for advice and care for the ‘hawk’.

      When speaking with Donn, (approx. 3:15 p.m.), about the ‘hawk’, which he described as sitting on the lawn not moving around much but very attentive, I explained that I was temporarily without transportation and that I would get there as soon as I could, but perhaps not until after 5pm, (when my sister Kerri Gaffett who was using my truck would be leaving on the boat). As it happened Kerri was free a bit earlier so we headed to the Rodman’s Hollow area to see about the bird.

      When we got to the house we found Donn working in the back, and together the three of us scouted all around the house in search of the bird, which had of course chosen that moment to disappear. Where had it gone? Donn insisted that it was in no shape to go far, but we couldn’t seem to find it. We gave up looking after a bit – I had to get Kerri to the boat – with exchanges of “call me if it shows up again”. In the time that it took me to turn around the truck and start heading out the drive, Donn was hailing us to stop. The bird had materialized and was standing, a little droop-winged, on a small pile of dirt.

     We approached slowly and cautiously. I kept the birds attention on me from the front, and from the back Donn quickly and deftly put a work shirt over the bird’s head and body. With essentially no struggle we had the bird – a Peregrine falcon. Now what?

     Once in hand, and with talons controlled, I could tell the bird was weak, but there were no obvious dramatic wounds. Two options presented themselves: Kerri could take the bird to a wildlife rehab center on the mainland, or we could see if the field biologists at the raptor station at Lewis Farm could assist, and perhaps they would have some direct connections for rehabilitation.  At just after 4pm, with Kerri driving, and me holding the bird, we were headed down Lewis Farm Road trying to explain to Al Hinde (raptor specialist at the field station) that we are coming with an injured peregrine. When we pulled off the road onto the edge of the field Al met us and I handed him the bird – he was the professional on the scene. In less than half a minute he had assessed the bird: immature, male, emaciated. As we three discussed what needed to be done, what could be done, when and how, we fleshed out a plan. Al climbed the hillside to get cell reception and confirmed that one of the raptor station field biologist, Deneb Sandack, was leaving the island on the 5pm boat, and could transport the peregrine to Tufts Veterinary clinic … if we could get the bird to her, as she was already loading her car onto the boat. No problem, it was only 4:35pm. Al tucked the falcon into a Bostich box that I had procured from Donn Frageau, and off we went, headed for the boat, while Kerri applied a few reinforcing pieces of duct tape (always at the ready in my truck) to key spots on the box. Once at the dock, I parked as close as possible to the boat, Kerri with her dog and backpack went running to get a ticket, and I walked to the boat gateway where I handed off the precious cargo to her as she got on board. The boat tooted its departing horn before I got back to the truck, and I knew that at that point Kerri was looking to meet the next carrier.

     Later that night I heard from Deneb Sandack (who originally was headed to Cape Cod) that she had successfully delivered the peregrine to Tufts Veterinary School outside of Boston, and in spite of its very light weight and weakened condition the bird was living and had a chance at survival.

     This little rescue was dramatically helped by the established presences of Biodiversity Research Institute’s (BRI) raptor tracking station on Block Island. But the success of this one bird’s survival – exactly like the success of the survival of the Peregrine falcon species – is due to the caring attitude of many of the human species. (For more about the near extinction, and now recovery, of Peregrine falcons go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/peregrine-falcon.html.)

     During the period October 4 – 8, BRI held a retreat on Block Island for photographers, artists and writers practicing the much needed art of creating a scientifically literate public, by bridging the gap between science data and human understanding. During the retreat’s welcome dinner and keynote discussion a participant asked the island residents that were present, ‘when we post all these beautiful photographs and artistic expressions on our various websites, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. what message do you want us to be conveying to the mainland world’? My answer was that the continued existence of the Island’s beauty and its function as refuge for birds, and plants, and insects, fish, and etc., has been maintained because many people care (and have cared) enough to take protective action, and have respected the needs and lives of burying beetles, meadow voles and peregrines, as well as humans, in this island oasis. The message should be: treat this place with care and respect.

     It was a sense of responsibility to offer care and respect for the bird’s, as well as our own, well-being that might have saved that little Peregrine’s life. And, it took a village. No one of us could have done it on our own: not Tufts, not BRI, not Norris, not Donn, not Kerri or Deneb or me. It took all of us to form a chain of survival that has resulted in a lost Peregrine recovering in a clinic with a pinned broken humerus and gaining weight; while we – the human species – look forward to its release in a few months time.

 Male, immature Peregrine falcon, October 5, 2015. (photo by Donn Frageau)

Male, immature Peregrine falcon, October 5, 2015. (photo by Donn Frageau)

Now the rest of the story                                                                               

(On a regular basis I have contacted Tufts to get updates on the peregrine's condition.)

10/5/15 - Delivered to Tufts Veterinary Clinic so weak and underweight (300g+/-) that it was a surprise that it was still living, given all the stress. Hand fed "paste" food, and too weak for immediate X-ray .

10/7/15 X-ray shows broken humorous. Feeding better and surgery to apply pins is delayed a day until the bird is stronger.

 10/20 – "Doing really well," putting on weight, eating daily, except when he’s been hand held to replace/reaffix bandage for humerus fracture, which he keeps picking at (typical for a Peregrine). "Being a bit of a brat" – typical, and a good sign. Eating mice.

11/5/15 – Doing well. Xray shows the fracture to be healing well. Still gaining weight.

11/16/15 – Doing “really well”, his pins have been removed, he is now in the large flight barn and flying around. Needs to build up muscle strength and stamina.

11/30/15 – "He is in excellent body condition". Was “banded last week” by Tom French with Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife. Will probably be released later this week.

12/3/15 – Released at 7:23 a.m. at Ellisville Harbor State Park in Plymouth, MA.