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Now She’s A Real Wild One!
One of the young Kestrels we have been looking after at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary since she & her siblings were brought into us has now undergone the final stages of being re-introduced into her natural habitat. This is a vital part of what the team at S.O.S do and there is always a real sense of achievement when a raptor is released safely into the wild, this time with special thanks to Dean and his pal, Kaia.

Back in July, this particular youngster was put into a ‘hack box’ for a week, which was then placed just inside a large open barn on a local farm.  Then seven days later, much to everyone’s satisfaction, the Kestrel was released.  This system of hacking is an extremely important one, as it allows raptors to build up fitness and practice their flying skills before becoming totally self-sufficient.  The Kestrel will still be fed in the hackbox, so that she has a guaranteed food source.  In time she will learn to hunt for herself and will start missing feeds, until finally she won’t need any supplementary nourishment.  Then she will be entirely independent.

Wings Across The Water
Not long ago Andy drove all the way up to the Norfolk coast to collect the newest member of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s flying squad.  Cue ‘Fred’ the American Kestrel.

American Kestrels are perhaps one of the most colourful raptors in the world.  Fred has blue-grey secondary feathers on his wings, while the undersides are white with black barring.  His back is a sort of rust coloured reddish-brown with barring on the lower half and his belly and flanks are white with black spotting.  His tail is also a reddish-brown colour; the technical term for which is ‘rufous’ (I confess I had to look that one up in the dictionary) although it has a black barring at the bottom with white tips. 
Fred is much smaller than his British cousins, being about the size of a song thrush. He weighs in at a colossal 4ozs, which is barely half the weight of our male European Kestrel ‘Bramble’!
We are hoping that Fred - who was captive bred, we hasten to add - will be joined very shortly by a female American Kestrel.  Not only will this provide him with company (and who knows, maybe the patter of teeny talons in the future) but also Andy is optimistic that it will be possible to fly both birds in a ‘cast’ – that is, both at the same time – in the flying displays.  That will certainly be something to watch out for as we add an extra dimension to the scope of knowledge we can illustrate here at S.O.S. !

Fascinating Raptor Facts
Here’s an interesting little snippet of history, which just goes to show that sometimes ‘commoners’ can have friends in really high places.  One of our most prolific native raptors is the Common Buzzard.  At this time there are approximately 75,000 pairs in the UK, from Cornwall and Devon all the way up.  Because they are incredibly adaptable, Buzzards will eat pretty much anything from spiders to snakes; they have even been known to follow a plough to see what delicacies it turns up.

Buzzards naturally prefer hilly locations, as this makes it much easier for them to take to the air, so East Anglia isn’t one of their favourite places to be.  But if you haven’t got a nice hill to fly from, then a church steeple will do just as well.  The downside of this is that buzzard droppings are particularly corrosive, which is why in Tudor times there was a bounty on their heads!  Thankfully, Henry VIII was a serious raptor fan and luckily for these guys, he levied serious punishments on anyone caught hurting a bird of prey.  Way to go, Henry!