Up, Up & Away!

Remember our story about the two wild injured Kestrels that were bought into the Sanctuary just before Christmas? Well, I am happy to report that the story has the makings of a relatively happy ending! 

Whilst one of the Kestrels remains in a rehab aviary, having problems with a very stiff wing (which we hope will rectify itself in time), we were able to release the other last weekend.

This pleased us no end because, truth is, the young female had spent rather too long a time in the rehab aviaries for her own good. In an ideal situation, once a wild bird of prey is fit for release we like to get it back to the wild as quickly as possible.  This is because, whilst a stay in our hospital area is designed to allow the bird time to recover, an extended stay in captivity will ultimately compromise its hunting skills, which are essential for raptors to survive in the wild.

However in this case the bad weather conspired against us and we had to change the routine.  The terrible storms and high winds of the week the kestrel was ready for release meant that she probably wouldn’t have survived the buffeting.  Then we had several bouts of snow, which again may have made hunting difficult - especially for such a young bird.

When a raptor is released, it is best to make sure that it is done so under the best possible weather conditions, so allowing the bird the best chance of getting back into the swing of hunting.  Good weather also means that the bird’s prey (food source) is more likely to be out and about. In the case of Kestrels, this diet is mostly made up of small mammals, such as mice and field voles.

Once it’s decided that the conditions are right, the next step is to make sure the bird is ready for release. It first needs to be caught up and removed from the rehab aviary.  Then we give it a ‘test-flight’ to check its flying capability and hunting responses. 

Preparing for the test flight is what you can see happening in the inset photo above. Firstly, temporary anklets are placed on each leg and then a creance line (training line) is attached to the anklets - this is done not to train the bird in any way, but simply introduced as a retrieval mechanism. The bird is then released for its test flight: should it show any signs of difficulty in taking to the skies, we would then allow it more time to recuperate.

Thankfully, on this occasion everything went according to plan.  The Kestrel was released for the test flight and even managed to do a slight hover, the distinctive hallmark of this particular species of bird of prey. This unusual ability is reflected in the Kestrel’s traditional english folklore name - the WINDHOVER!

Once we were convinced that our young guest would be able to fend for itself in the wild, all that remained for us to do was to take it to the appropriate release site and set her free.  Whenever possible, the site should always be close to where the bird was originally found, in order to re-introduce it back into familiar territory.

So yesterday Craig (one of the falconers here at SOS) jumped into his car with the bird safely contained within a traveling box and drove to the allocated release sight to set the Kestrel free.

The mission was a successful one and the young female took off with out so much as a backward glance - exactly what we wanted to achieve! Witnessing a successful return to the wild is a terrific reward for those of us involved in the rehabilitation business!