Today was the kind of snow day that makes one enjoy working for home. No need to go out in the cold and snow and wind. That wasn’t however how Dennis and I (and some friends) spent part of our snow day.
Almost a month ago, an unbanded male peregrine was spotted having a meal on the east-side ledge of the Radisson Hotel. Within 24 hours, an unbanded male wad brought into the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre with blood in its mouth (not a good sign) but no other apparent serious injuries. Can we say for sure this was the same male we saw the day before, no, but he was the only unbanded male around. The next day there was fortunately no more blood, only a sore leg and a nicely aggressive outlook on life … and his rehabbers. Prognosis was good but his leg needed to heal up so he could feed himself. Most birds in care are willing to tolerate humans and confinement if they are left alone for the most part and are provided with food at regular intervals. Not this guy. He started to feed himself a few days ago (the folks at PWRC had been hand-feeding him up ’til then) but he wouldn’t cooperate otherwise. No showing off his flying skills, nothing. Under other circumstances, a few more days in a flight cage might have made a world of difference, but his agitation at being in care was increasing to the point that there were concerns he might injure himself, so we needed to make a decision. Or rather, he’d made the decision that it was time for him to leave and all we could do was comply. We’d have liked nicer weather for his release but we couldn’t risk him hurting himself in the interim.
So now the question was where to release him? Where could he (if he wanted to) tuck down for a couple of days, where food was near enough that he didn’t have to wander into the West Winnipeg or Radisson territories? Given that he was found so close to the Radisson, it is likely that he was injured when Ella and Hart (Pip hadn’t arrived home yet) enthusiastically defended their nestsite. One good thing about today’s blast of wintery weather, none of our resident birds – Ella and Pip at the Radisson or Hart and his new ladyfriend* at West Winnipeg – would be far from their respective nestboxes. This would give our guy some space to get his bearings his next adventure. That’s when the perfect location came to mind. Fort Whyte Alive is a great place to visit no matter what your age or interest and it has some open areas that might be suitable for a release.
So off Dennis and I went this morning. First to meet Lisa Tretiak who had brought our peregrine into town so we could get an early start. First time I have seen him in-person and he really is a handsome bird – small like so many of our Manitoba peregrines, so it is possible that he is one of Princess’ chicks or grand-chicks. Nice to think that perhaps he might be one of our “lost” kids, but no way to be sure. For being such an uncooperative patient, he was quite tolerant of the banding process. It likely helped that Lisa was holding him – whether he likes her or hates her, he knows her and that can make a big difference. Banding never takes long and then we were back on the road again.
Arriving at Fort Whyte Alive, we were met by Liz Wilson, President and CEO, who offered to guide us out to the area she thought might meet our needs. It was more than suitable, it was perfect. An open field near Lake Cargill with plenty of room for him to stretch his wings and get his bearings as well as places nearby for him to roost and a nice selection of prey to hunt. And far enough away from the Radisson and West Winnipeg pairs that if he’s smart, he can hang out there, trouble-free, for as long as he wants/needs. No idea if he will take advantage of all these resources but at least they are here for him.
Tromping through the snow it was easy to see how much had accumulated since we set out this morning. We checked the wind and set the box so that our soon-to-be-liberated friend would be able to take advantage of the lift the wind could provide him on release. We carefully took the door off the box and stepped way back so that he could go in his own time. Didn’t take long, couple of minutes at most before he realized he was free to leave us. He stopped briefly on the threshold of the box, check the wind and then he was off like a rocket. He quickly gained altitude and swung off to the east where he made a small circle and disappeared in the blowing snow. No problem with his flight skills – now we just have to see if his social distancing skills are as good! No more going back to the Radisson and no checking out the nestbox in West Winnipeg.
And he has a name now. It is our tradition to name spring releases after astronomical events or objects so as to help differentiate these birds from the chicks we will (hopefully) be banding in a couple of months. We decided to name him Arcturus. Arcturus is a star, a really bright star, a red giant actually, that is visible in the northern hemisphere for most of the year. And easy to find in the night sky – the handle of the Big Dipper points you too it. From the EarthSky.org website: “Passing directly over the Hawaiian Islands, Arcturus was a particularly important navigational star to the islands’ indigenous inhabitants and other Polynesians.”
When we last saw Arcturus he was going strong and we hope in future that his navigational skills will keep him out of trouble, for as much as we’d like to see him, I’m pretty sure, he’d prefer never to see us again!