Reading PA has a pair of Peregrine Falcons. They have been nesting atop a high rise building in the city for several years. Last year we received one baby that had flown too early and fluttered to the city streets below. The bird was uninjured and after 2 days of observation at Red Creek, the PGC returned it to the care of its parents at the nest site.
This year’s babies were not as fortunate. Within a few days time, about a week after the babies had fledged, all 4 babies crashed.
On Tuesday, June 15th, the first bird, “Blue” (named after the colored coding tag on its leg) was rescued by the Gonzalez family in Reading who brought it to us. It had severe trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection that invades the crop of the bird. It causes a thick growth the consistency of hard cheese that fills an afflicted bird’s crop, which processes food before it reaches the stomach. The growth kills the bird by filling its mouth, leaving it unable to eat and, eventually, to breathe.
The canker had completely filled Blue’s crop and had invaded the mouth and trachea. She had lost one third of her body weight and was not reactive. We began treatment for the infection but her prognosis was poor.
2 days later, Thursday, June 17th, we received a call from the Game Commission that a second bird (Red) had been recovered. A city resident, seeing the bird on the sidewalk, tried to rescue it. The bird ran out into traffic and was struck by a vehicle.
The best description I can give for Red’s condition when he arrived is “the lights were on but nobody was home.” Red suffered a concussion and didn’t respond to anything. Fortunately, he had no sign of the parasite that infected his sister and his body weight was good. We were lucky to be dealing with trauma only.
By Saturday Blue was eating from a forceps and Red became active and vocalizing. We were beginning to become hopeful for both birds. Suddenly a third was rescued.
PGC officers Bob Prall and David Brockmeier delivered “Yellow,” a second female, on Saturday evening. Yellow also was afflicted with trichomoniasis and was in extremely poor condition. Having been encouraged by the advances of the other 2 siblings, we aggressively began treating Yellow for the parasite.
Sunday morning brought a terrible blow. Blue, the first bird to have arrived, who had been making tremendous advances, was found dead in her vet cage. She had died during the night. Yellow’s condition remained poor and Red refused to self-feed.
Our hopes of saving all 3 birds were crushed and Yellow’s condition was grave. Yellow began declining, suffering seizures and presented other neurological signs. Blue had regressed to a nestling stage and refused to pick up his own food.
During this time we had tremendous support from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Bird biologist Art McMorris and I communicated daily. He was a huge source of information on the history of these birds, and particularly this nest. We had also communicated with Dr. Len Donato, owner of Radnor Veterinary Hospital about the trich. Dr. Donato has been donating veterinary care to Red Creek for several years.
The Reading Eagle posted a story about the plight of this nest of birds and a feature story on the Gonzalez family who had rescued Blue. Those stories can be seen here:
The tragedy would continue with more sad news: “White,” the remaining bird was found dead at the nest site, having expired a week or so earlier. We also made the difficult, but kind decision to euthanize Yellow, as her condition worsened. Only Red remained of the original four babies from the 2010 nest. The following update from the Reading Eagle was sad: 1 peregrine falcon fledgling from Reading nest still alive.
But there was much hope for the lone survivor, Red. He began becoming more aware and aggressively began eating on his own. By mid week (1 week after arriving) he was moved to an outdoor flight cage where he prospered.
By Saturday he was flying circles around me in the flight — his wing beats straight and strong! I contacted Art McMorris and we planned for his release early in the week.
Tuesday, June 29th, was a exciting day! The Peregrine Falcon “Red,” who had now been a patient at our center for almost 2 weeks, was ready to go! We had a 3 o’clock meet planned with Art McMorris and Shawn Walb, a local enthusiast who had been assisting with nest documentation for several years.
At 1 o’clock I caught up Red (not an easy task) and placed him in a mesh carrier. By 1:30 Morrie and I were on our way to Reading.
An unexpected overheating of our van threatened to delay the release. Part way down route 183, Morrie noticed the heat gauge in the van climbing. We pulled over at Lift Inc in Bernville and asked for help. Neither Morrie nor I are very “auto-savvy,” but luckily this company has a generous attitude toward the public. Not 1, but 2 mechanics came to our aid, filled our radiator and sent us and our precious cargo on our way.
At 3:00 we met Art and Shawn, putting faces to the people who cared so much about these magnificent birds. We also met Rose Hemmer, another falcon nest assistant, and our team of 5 set out through the city to the release site. Art had a helmet and protective gear and I was wondering if I should have brought mine.
The building was tall and the view magnificent. The adult falcon parents whizzed by the windows as we looked out. Their speed and maneuverability was awe-inspiring. I usually only get to experience these animals when they are broken and failing. Setting them free is our goal and opening my hand and watching them fly away is the closest I get to observing them naturally. The beauty of these birds, strong and healthy, gave me chills. I stuck my head out the window. The sky was empty and the view vast. Suddenly a parent bird swooped by and brushed my hair. I smiled with delight and understood Art’s need for a helmet.
We placed the carrier on the window ledge and unzipped the door. Red stood staring out into freedom for a few moments… and was gone. He flew out over the city, momentarily disappearing from sight, and quickly flew back, returning to the rooftop. The entire flight took only seconds, his speed and confidence perfect. He was strong, free, and I knew he would one day own the sky.
It was an emotional moment following 2 stressful weeks. I never hugged a Game Commission officer before, but I did that day.
We returned to the street and watched for quite some time. Red stood on the rooftop corner begging for food from his parents which circled around him. It seemed as if nothing had happened, no time had interrupted their family. The reunion was instant.
One parent called from the sky and Red joined them in flight. A food trade may have taken place because Red flew toward the rooftops and disappeared. Only the parents remained circling but suddenly small downy feathers came floating from the rooftop. Perhaps Red was eating a pigeon, a welcome home gift from his parents.
Here is the 11 second video of his return from flying over the city. The parent birds can be seen occasionally circling.