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Release the Kestrel!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A month went by, as months do when Christmas is coming and you're traveling with your kids in Spain (I'm not done with Spain! I just had to tell you about this bird!). A few days after admission on December 12,  the kestrel had X-rays and a thorough exam at the Ohio Wildlife Center hospital near Columbus. Coracoids were fine. However there was a left carpal issue--the hand part of his wing was hurt.

He received light oral inflammatory treatment, laser therapy to promote natural healing, and physical therapy. He was kept in the hospital for a few more days, then taken out to the pre-release facility with its big flight cages to test his wings. I got this precious information from my friend Connie Ray, a volunteer rehabilitator for Ohio Wildlife Center. I so appreciate a little glimpse into their workings, especially when one of my special birds is recuperating in their care.

I was hoping perhaps to pick the kestrel up when we got back from Spain on Dec. 30, but he wasn't quite ready. He was flying, though, and the veterinarian was hopeful. So was I. I just couldn't imagine this jewel anywhere but in the sky, hovering over the vast fields of Barlow.

photo by Lee Hermandorfer

Finally, I got the email from Ohio Wildlife Center that I'd been hoping for. The kestrel was ready for release!

I can't tell you how grateful I am that I don't have to get in the car and drive 2 1/2 hours to go pick these creatures up, or take them to care in Columbus. All I do is text Lee, and we coordinate. She budgets the time to go by OWC and get the bird; we meet up. But this time Lee would be in on the release, and I was so happy about that. It was only right.

I also have to tell you how amazing it is to have been able to release two raptors this winter. The percentage of raptors that meet up with barbed wire fences and cars, and come out of it releasable, is so vanishingly small. And it is so heartbreaking to field one after another, send them up, only to hear they've been euthanized for their injuries, too severe to be healed. It's very hard on the heart, especially when it's a big sweet old barred owl with those liquid eyes, or a beautiful Cooper's hawk, wild and crazy but oh so broken. I just don't feel that I can or should pronounce on these birds; I feel like I have to give them the benefit of a full veterinary exam. And yet most of the time I know what the answer will be. That's what makes it so hard.

But I had a good feeling about the barbed-wire redtail, which was richly borne out, and I had a good feeling about this little kestrel. His eyes seemed to say, "I've got this. I need time, but I'll be coming back to you."

And he did.

Also attending the release: the Yost family, with their Miracle Dog, Frank, who was lost this winter for a couple of months, but who was found again, much to their joy. 

Anastasia and her kids are the ones who caught the falcon when they realized he was hurt. 
These kids...the sweetest. 
They walked and scooted and strollered from home to attend the release!

The little falcon was scrabbling around in his carrier. He knew where he was. His head bobbed, his eyes bugged. He was home! Why wouldn't we let him out? Well, we eventually did. Being humans, we had to yak about it for awhile first. We don't make much sense to falcons.

It was an unnaturally warm, very blustery day, over 70 degrees, but it wasn't raining. The kestrel would just have to deal with the gusty wind, and the cold front roaring toward us. It was time for him to be free at last.

I was very nervous about capturing his release in slow motion, but I somehow managed to do it. He was out of there like greased lightning. A real-time video would have shown nothing but a blur. With this, we get to revel in his amazing colors one last time, and in motion!

please note--it's   --  I got it wrong in the video. Doesn't he fly so beautifully, so swiftly, so assuredly? Great work, Ohio Wildlife Center!

If that wasn't cool enough, the kestrel made a tremendous circle around Barlow town center, sat for awhile in the big sycamore on the fairgrounds, then came back to us! He fetched up in a tree and commenced to holler.

He was looking all around, hollering killykillykillykilly as if he were calling for his mate. 
See, now, that's such a parrot thing to do, to sit up on a high perch and yell like that. 

I wish I could say that a female flew right up in response, but that didn't happen while we were watching. He'll have to go look for her.
It was SO cool to see him fly so easily, so well, and to see him return from his perch in the sycamore, where he was little more than a speck to the naked eye. 

These aren't great shots, but he was so fast and the light was absolutely pitiful. 
See that row of round white windows along the rear margin of his wing? Great field mark for American kestrel. 

Barlow is full of fields and farms like these. That bird is in tall corn. 

Michael McCutcheon is a dentist whose office overlooks the field where our bird was found injured. He said he's been watching a kestrel there for a long time. He's also Lee's dentist and a birdwatcher, so we were delighted that he and his family could attend the release. He'll keep an eye out for the bird going forward. Curtis attended, but he stayed in the car for the release, because Frank got there first. He was kind of mad at me so I brought him out and took him for a nice hike in a hemlock ravine immediately afterward.

Curtis enjoyed meeting everyone. He is becoming expert at the impromptu meet and greet events that seem to follow us wherever we go. People recognize him, and then figure out who I must be. Ha ha!!

I enjoyed seeing this little band of people, united in joy at the kestrel's release.
That's Lee holding the carrier. She has incredibly sharp and practiced birder eyes and is pointing out where the kestrel is at the moment. 

Fare well, little death parrot. Thanks to everyone who made your recovery and release possible. Thanks to the kestrel who came zipping back to holler awhile, and let us know he was large, in charge and back home where he belonged!

Wildlife rehab isn't just for broken kestrels and orphaned opossums. It's for people, too.

 I think that we all need the occasional lift of a newly freed bird's wings.

Please donate here, to keep the Ohio Wildlife Center going strong. They helped more than 5,000 animals and birds last year! and I'd be utterly lost without them.


Yes, we ALL need the lift of the occasional success story; thank you for sharing his!

Such a wonderful success story. Love this beautiful kestrel and all the kind-hearted people who helped him have a second chance. Thank you.

makes my heart so full it leaks! Lovely little fierce death parrot! (I laughed so hard at that) And the *row of windows* is a great tip!

In these days when so much is wrong in the world, it is wonderfully refreshing to hear a success story like this one. Thank you for making my day and reminding me that there are still a lot of us out there who care.

I hear so many bird-related stories that do NOT have a happy ending, so it does my heart good to experience this happy ending through your words and pictures. You have a gift for making me feel that I was there with you.

Posted by mimimanderly January 16, 2020 at 5:21 PM
Posted by Anonymous January 16, 2020 at 11:36 PM

Julie, wonderful story, even shed a tear or two after seeing the little booger fly so freely. Also, donated to the wildlife center as well. Love all of your varied works.

A Guy From Indiana

Posted by Anonymous January 17, 2020 at 1:45 AM

What a way to start my day reading this! Thank you! And the film of the release was incredible!!! So grateful for this happy ending and to you for sharing with us.

Every time you post one of these, I cry when the bird is released. It is such a joy to see it take flight and know that it feels the air under its wings again and is back in its rightful home. Thank you, Julie! I've never been a "birder" and probably won't ever be, but I do pay more attention now, thanks to knowing you and the beautiful stories you share.

Just finished reading, "Saving Jemima". My Christmas present from Lee. She just told me about the blog. So beautiful. I have taken 4 birds to the OWC. Three made it. It's a wonderful facility.

I still will keep trying to get you over to Purdue. We people out west here, love all your works as well. I can get over there (Purdue) and shake a few more trees.

I love a happy ending, especially when it involves an injured bird! I had to watch the slow-motion video multiple times, especially the part when he exits the carrier. I forget how small kestrels are compared to hawks; the very first time I saw a kestrel, it was from afar, but I knew what it was from the facial markings.

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