Friday, July 23, 2010

Aplomado Falcon Hack Site Attendant

Originally posted over at Seetrail; backdated here.

Here's a quick FAQ list for folks new to the recent posts:

What are we?
For July, August and September, we are Aplomado Falcon Hack Site Attendants. Meaning we feed/water/babysit Aplomado Falcons at a "hack" site.
Hack = falconry term for "release"

A what falcon?
Aplomado Falcons are the only Endangered falcon species in North America; Peregrines were de-listed not too long ago. They are roughly the size of a long, slender pigeon, a bit bigger than the American Kestrel ("sparrowhawk"). While they are still found in northern Mexico, due to overgrazing and poor land management they were extirpated* from their former range in New Mexico as well as south and west Texas. Their habitat preference is open, dry grassland interspersed with yucca (a nest site favorite) and low shrubs. Their food preference is small birds.
* extirpated = they no longer occur in a region that they occupied in the past (you could say that bison were completely extirpated from their historical range - they are not extinct)

What is the job?
Aplomado Falcons are raised at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. As they approach 40 days old, they are sent to release sites where they are kept in boxes on towers until such time as they can be released (around 40 days old). After release, there are morning and afternoon feedings and observations. We take notes on anything significant in terms of behavior and report back to our field supervisor who is the brains behind our site and others in the region. Constant feeding and monitoring is required to ensure that leftover quail parts won't attract raccoons, vultures, ravens, etc.

How many falcons will you release?
Our site is scheduled to have only one more box (5-7) after these first two (14 in the first batch). There is no way we'll still have 21 birds accounted for at the end of the project, sadly the odds are not in favor of that. Indeed, a few birds didn't even return after their release days.

Released on the 10th, last seen on the 11th:
Released on the 11th, last seen on the 11th:
Released on the 11th, last seen on the 15th:

(All of the above birds are male; they have a black band over a color band on their left leg and one aluminum band on the right leg. So 59BR would be a 5 black over 9 red. Oddly, only one missing bird has a green lower band - this means that the vast majority of our remaining birds are black/green and only two are black/red!)

So as of the 19th, eight birds are "regulars" and seen every day, feed every day, and are otherwise accounted for. Only three birds remain from the release on the 11th, and two of them are females. All but two are still around from that first release, and the two who went missing, did so very early on. Owls are a huge predator threat at this stage so our fingers are crossed.

Helpful links for Aplomado Falcon information:
The Peregrine Fund - Aplomado Falcon Conservation Project
The Peregrine Fund - Aplomado Falcon General Information
Wiki - Aplomado Falcon

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