American Kestrel - Rescue and Release
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The air was still charged from a recent thunderstorm. My Husband randomly sent an iPhone photo of a juvenile bird to inquire what it was. It was next to the highway with no sign of a nest or parent nearby at his Mother's home in eastern Metcalfe County, Kentucky. The rain had been intermittent and fog had started to fill the valley as the sun quickly began to descend for the night. Yet the biggest threat, was a stray domestic cat that had been hanging around the last couple days near where the bird was found. Via the photo, I recognized that it was a juvenile American Kestrel. They're not endangered, but they've been declining in recent years. I rushed over to their location.
Upon arrival, it was obvious that the bird was in need of assistance. He didn't physically appear injured, but typically, they tend to lay upon their back with the sharp claws on their feet to defend, yet it just sat there.
It didn't resist when using leather gloves, the kestrel was gently lifted into a clean plastic storage bin and rushed to the porch to keep it dry. I immediately pulled my iPhone from my pocket and attempted to reach the Raptor Rescue in KY who was the largest organization nearby.
Unfortunately, it was after business hours and about two hours later, my voice-mail on their after hours hotline wasn't yet returned. It quickly became dark. The air began to chill. I attempted to reach the KY Fish & Wildlife with no success. Eventually, I managed to find a retired rehabilitation that answered my call. They were located in Larue county, KY. They informed me that there wasn't really anyone left except for Raptor Rescue. Since these rescues run on donations, most could not afford to remain in business. They advised me that if I had the resources, to keep the bird safe overnight and reach RR first thing in the morning. They instructed me on the care and maintenance and made it clear that there were legal implications to keeping them, so do not get attached.
Fearing for the overnight safety of the kestrel, I did as requested. Since I'd planned for us to take turns overnight, I'd opted to bring the bird with us and then determine in the morning if it was healthy enough to be returned to the wild or would require transport to the RR. So we rigged up a large empty rabbit cage with a tree branch in the center and a nest like pile of sticks much like photos of nests online. In order to best facilitate the return of the Kestrel to the wild, we had as little contact as possible. We fed it raw meat with tweezers as directed and remained silent and covered. The kestrel quickly devoured the bite sized pieces of meat. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to watch this kestrel eat from my hands (well, gloves). The issue in such a case is for the bird to become unafraid of humans and be unable to safely return to the wild. To adapt to dead flesh and easy access. Within about an hour of eating, the kestrel began to perk up. I kept it outside overnight, but stayed up to ensure it's survival. Natural instincts did their job and the juvenile found the nest and slept most of the night.
That morning, I finally reached the RR. The lady was extremely nice. I'd had little sleep and had the mannerisms of a worried parent! Of course, that's my natural reaction to wildlife in distress. I've assisted with animal rescue and have experience, but sometimes not all animals can be helped. I'd had no idea if the cat had already harmed the bird or if the time in the weather was already damaging due to the age. Had the cat already bitten the bird, it could still die despite our best attempts due to the toxins in feline saliva.
What I found out is that the kestrel was a male. This was determined by the feather coloring. I was told that I'd done the right thing, but that it was illegal to keep them so our next step was to determine if he would require transport or was healthy enough to be returned to the wild which was my goal and the ideal solution.
I was told what to look for and the most important parts were whether or not he was able to eat, pass feces and fly or attempt to fly with wings that appeared undamaged. Thankfully all tests were positive. He was not yet ready to fly which was how he got in the situation. Had we not rescued him, either the cat would've enjoyed a large meal or the highway would've been his demise for it was merely 15ft away.
After a few more questions, it was determined that it would be safe to attempt to find his nest now that it was daylight and not raining. So, I returned to his 'home' and prayed & hoped for a sign of the male or female adult. If they didn't make an appearance without a coupe hours, I'd be making a long trip to Louisville.
Upon arrival, I was unable to find a sign of them. I took the cage and set it near where he was found. About 30 minutes later, the beautiful sight of an adult kestrel could be seen on the power-line across the highway. So I released him gently onto the top of the cage and ran off behind the tree with my camera. I watched as the adult began to circle and the juvenile went to the shade of a tree nearby. Unfortunately, this wasn't an ideal location for there was still the issue of the highway and the cat which I'd not yet seen, but had hovered around the area. I began to watch the action of the adult and found that there were two adults. One circling us, the other at the field nearby. Some instinct told me to see why the other one was stationary. I began to walk that direction and was promptly dive-bombed so I knew I was near either another juvenile or finally found the nest.
Suddenly, I saw another juvenile kestrel perched on the fence in the backyard. Beautiful. I approached closer for a photo and found that the male had a sister! She was safely perched across the yard where the road was at the farthest distance. Since the adults had her there already, I felt he would have the best chance with her, so used the leather gloves and had no difficulty moving him for the adults didn't dive-bomb. It was as if they understood my intention. He too seemed to understand, for he jumped from my hand onto the fence next to his sister. I took a couple fast photos and quickly departed to say farewell to a gorgeous bird. I watched from a distance as both parents ignored me and cared for him. I updated the RR and was told that as long as the adults were showing defense that he would be just fine.
I was thrilled to have been able to successfully return him to his family. Sadly, not all birds are so lucky. Many are injured beyond salvation. Some are kept as pets or sold. Some even kept to fight. The reality is that no one should involve themselves in the natural order of nature unless the situation provides no choice. Anyone who thinks they can provide long-term for a wild animal should truly consider the consequences. Many times, they die from malnutrition and lack of proper habitat despite the best intentions. Sometimes the human gets injured due to a natural defense reaction and the now semi-tame bird is released in the wild without the ability to care for itself. Be very cautious. If you find an animal injured, immediately determine a local rescue to contact. If you are unable to reach them, only get involved if you are 100% sure the animal is truly in mortal danger.