Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crazy for Kestrels

The nesting season has been challenging for many raptor species in Minnesota. A cool wet spring followed by storms blasting winds of fury left many raptor babies without nests and separated from their parents. Five little “fluff balls” also had a challenging start to life but not because of storms; their parents chose to nest inside of a barn in Wabasha and soon after the young hatched both parents were found dead, suspected of ingesting an unidentified toxin. Due to their food begging cries, the youngsters were quickly discovered and transported to TRC. At ages estimated to be only 3-6 days, the downy chicks were identified as American kestrels. They were different ages because in several species of raptors, the eggs are incubated after the second one is laid even though more will be laid in the next few days; thus, they hatch a few days apart. For the next week and a half, these falcons were housed in an incubator which provided them with the warmth their mom would usually provide, and they were eating on their own within a few days. Great care was taken so they would not imprint on people, but on each other instead. They started eating a mash of skinned mice, chick, and quail run through a food processer and seasoned with extra calcium. After that they quickly moved to cut up meat and eventually to a whole prey diet. Last week, when they reached fledging age (about 3.5-4 weeks) they were transferred to a hack enclosure north of the Twin Cities metro area.

A “hack” is the process of a slow release. The birds were fed in the enclosure for 6 days and the door was opened on July 10. They are now free to come and go and will do so for several weeks as they refine their flying and hunting skills. Food will be left for them daily until they are self sufficient and no longer need our support. During this time another group of 3 youngsters grabbed by a dog will be following in their “talon” steps and joining them at the hack site. (In the second photo, the arrow indicates the hack enclosure that the kestrels utilized in their transition back into the wild.)

The Raptor Center couldn’t do this important work without the help of our volunteers, and the support of friends like you. While you are checking out our Kestrel Watch site, you can also make an online gift (click here) to ensure a future for these youngsters.

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