Sharon Conn. — On Saturday, October 18th, Steven and Michelle Bangs of West Stahl Road in Ashley Falls, Masachusetts,, made a telephone call that saved the life of a critically injured juvenile peregrine falcon.
“I walked out of the garage and saw some kind of hawk on my lawn,” reported Steven Bangs. “After watching him, I could tell there was something wrong with his left wing, and I didn’t think he could fly. My wife and I offered him some raw pieces of beef because he looked hungry. When a wild animal lets you feed it, that’s just not normal, and I thought, there’s gotta be something wrong with the poor little guy.”
Bangs called Connecticut’s Sharon Audubon Center (SAC), where he was connected to licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Johanna Walton. Walton spends Sundays volunteering at SAC’s rehabilitation facility, caring for sick, injured, and orphaned birds.
Arriving at the Bangs’ residence shortly thereafter, Walton expected to find a red-tailed hawk, one of the area’s most common birds of prey. Instead, she was startled to discover an approximately five-month-old peregrine falcon in critical condition.
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on Earth, diving for prey at speeds up to 200mph, and is currently classified as endangered in the state of Massachusetts.
After capturing the bird, Walton transported him to SAC, where she and fellow rehabilitator Jennifer Healy of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in Hartford immediately began stabilization efforts and a cursory evaluation.
The falcon was dehydrated, emaciated, breathing laboriously, and in a state of shock. Further examination revealed a swollen and infected left wing injury surrounded by necrotic tissue. Walton and Healy suspected that the bird suffered from internal parasites, which resulted in poor general health and perhaps led to an impact injury, such as a collision with a car.
Treatment entailed the administration of fluids, antibiotics, and painkillers, in addition to the application of heat and isolating the bird in a dark and quiet location to prevent a stress-induced fatality.
The following morning, SAC transferred the falcon to A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, Conn., one of the top rehabilitation organizations in the northeast. Husband-and-wife team Todd Secki and Christine Cummings founded and operate the facility with the help of rehabilitator Grace Krick.
Due to a generous grant from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation, SAC’s rehabilitation facility is currently under complete renovation, and the falcon would require a large pre-release enclosure and round-the-clock monitoring due to its precarious condition.
X-rays performed by Dr. Holdmeyer and staff at Higganum Veterinary Clinic in Higganum, Conn., exposed a bullet lodged in the soft tissue of the falcon’s abdomen, reported Cummings, narrowly missing vital organs, as well as shattered phalanges in the metacarpus of his left wing — the bird equivalent of human fingers, which are necessary for flight and hunting.
“We were heartbroken to hear that he had been shot,” said Bangs. “How could anyone do such a thing? If I had known he’d been shot, I would have called the police immediately.”
Native bird species are protected by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Shooting a protected species is a crime punishable by law, and anybody possessing a part of one such bird may be prosecuted for a felony charge. An investigation of the crime is underway, and anyone with a possible lead is encouraged to contact Special Agent Tom Ricardi of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at 860- 280-4894.
In spite of his youth and the many dedicated individuals who have been instrumental in his survival, the “release-ability status [of the falcon] is grim,” said Walton.
“The odds are against him due to the fact that we must continue to debride the gunshot area and destabilize the wrap for the break each time we do,” said Cummings.
Walton highlighted the necessity of complete healing, since the injured wing area includes the primary feather follicles, and without the regrowth of these feathers, the falcon will never be able to fly or hunt or therefore survive independently. The bullet will not be removed because the risk of putting the bird under anesthesia is greater than the danger of leaving it intact, Cummings explained.
If the falcon survives and cannot be released, he will likely become habituated to human handling and serve as a bird ambassador, educating the public about the species and the tragedy that can ensue when reckless and ignorant individuals inflict violence upon them.
“There is no such thing as a solo rescue and recovery,” said Walton. “If a miracle is to be had, it will be found in the hands of Christine Cummings and Grace Krick.”
Peregrine falcon numbers reached all-time lows in the mid-twentieth century due to illegal hunting and DDT poisoning. The species has made a comeback in recent years due to pesticide bans and concentrated breeding and reintroduction efforts, but the atrocity of an illegal shooting of a juvenile is exemplified by the fact that these falcons were extinct in the eastern United States just fifty years ago.
“You know, I grew up in this area, and when I was a kid, I never saw hawks or falcons in the sky — probably because of DDT. And now I do! But, I think people take that for granted,” said Bangs. “We sure hope the little guy will be able to fly again and be released back where he belongs… Because wild things belong in the wild.”