Tuesday, September 4, 2007
For Love of a Falcon
Photograph by David Powell.
Seventeen Aplomado Falcon nestlings experienced their first taste of freedom on Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch in August 2007. Bred in captivity by the Peregrine Fund, the young birds were transferred to a hack site at a remote location on the equally remote ranch in south-central NewMexico. There, they grew to fledgling stage in a large nest box atop a tall platform with an expansive view of the Chihuahuan desert grassland. The chicks received food via hack site attendants, and yet never saw their human providers. At about 45 days of age, the side of the box was removed and they were free to explore their new territory.
This is part of a collaborative effort among the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Peregrine Fund to re-establish this endangered species into formerly occupied territory in New Mexico. We were there too! Our role is to monitor raptor populations on the ranch and the fledgling survival of the young Aplomados. This is how I found myself along with my colleague, Sandy Skeba, wandering along the lonely ranch roads scanning the skies, the yuccas, and fence posts for sign of the now wandering falcon equivalent of teenagers. We found them too.
One small group of three remained close to the hack site, where they were assured of an evening meal, which will continue to be provided for some time as the young acquire the hunting skills essential for survival.
It was near our bunk house lodgings for the night, at the place called Deep Well, that the others gathered, harrassing each other and any other hapless wildlife that happened to be nearby, practicing aerial maneuvers, landings, and take offs, and generally acting like exuberant young! Eight in all, this packlet of falcons appeared to have no worries, no fears. Previous experience had shown them that, at about 6 p.m., the Peregrine Fund truck would arrive and food would magically appear at the hack site. And, just like clockwork, the entire pack disappeared at about dinner time not to be seen again.
Our raptor survey the following morning revealed 159 raptors along a 20 mile stretch, an astounding average of 8 raptors every mile. We tallied several species as well including Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vulture. Superb management practices at the ranch ensure an abundant supply of vegetation, insects, mammals and birds. If I were a falcon, this is where I would want to live!