A rare prairie falcon caught in Trail will spend the winter at the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre. (Mark Brett/Western News)

Rare falcon caught in Trail spends winter in raptor rehab

A rare prairie falcon caught in Trail will spend the winter at the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre

A rare (for this region) prairie falcon will be wintering in the comfortable confines of the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre after being caught earlier this month in the West Kootenay.

Leanne, named after Nelson veterinarian Dr. Leanne Sackney, who did some home care of the adult female falcon, caught the attention of Trail residents, having been seen hanging around a daycare and no apparent fear of people.

Manager Dale Belvedere of the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre with a rare prairie falcon currently under her care.
Mark Brett/Western News

According to SORCO manager Dale Belvedere, there are very strong indications the bird, thought to have come from Washington State, may have intentionally been released by someone who had her illegally.

It’s estimated there are over 100 licenced falconers in Washington state who primarily use the birds to hunt although they are used for other tasks as well.

Related: Taste of freedom for owls released in Oliver

“Upon examining her we found calluses on her legs probably from jesses (thin straps used to tether a raptor in falconry)” said Belvedere, adding the provincial fish and wildlife branch is also involved in the case. “If it was a legal falconer and she got away she would have had a jesse or be banded and she’s not.

“The assumption through the ministry (Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) is somebody who had her got fed up with her and let her go and she doesn’t know what to do. She didn’t know to migrate. We don’t know how long she was out there but basically, bottom line is we can’t release her.”

Falcons generally migrate in late summer and early fall.

Although the age of the bird is unknown, she is in good health and the proper weight for a mature adult of her species.

According to Belvedere, the only reason the bird was caught was out of concern for the children of the daycare.

Related: South Okanagan owl and raptor centre welcomes Bad Company

“We just didn’t know what she would do, and we only intercepted her because of that reason,” she said. “She’s very friendly and she responds very well to a female’s voice, so any female talking she’s looking around and tilting her head.”

As well, the bird will only eat in the mornings, something Belvedere believes may be a routine or pattern she developed with her previous owner.

Prairie falcons were much more common in the ‘70s and ‘80s in B.C. and government studies show the Okanagan was historically the centre of provincial distribution but their numbers declined substantially due largely in part to the human disturbance of their rocky nesting sites.

A rare prairie falcon in care at the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre.
Mark Brett/Western News

On the provincial red list, only a few breeding pairs of the raptors are thought to exist in the Okanagan.

When this falcon was taken in nearly two weeks ago the ministry put out word of its capture to those involved in falconry in the states and B.C. in hopes someone would come forward but that has not happened, according to Belvedere.

“So we have no choice but to keep her until the spring,” she said.

There are plans to renovate one of the clinic flight pens, blocking out the elements to keep it warmer inside for the raptor while giving her more space.

Of the options available, Belvedere hopes if the bird is young enough and has very little human contact during her stay at SORCO she may become “wild.”

“That has happened before with some birds that we’ve had so we’re limiting contact with her, even though she is very friendly,” said Belvedere. “Hopefully, she’ll become wild enough so that if we bring her back to the Trail area or as close to the border as we can get she’ll go back to wherever she came from and then she’ll migrate next year.

“But right now it would be a death sentence to put here out in the wild.”

Related: Ikeda delegate makes generous donation to SORCO

Other possibilities include getting a permit to keep Leanne as an educational bird, similar to SORCO’s great horned owl Houdini or sending her to a licenced facility like British Columbia Wildlife Park in Kamloops.

“There is a third option, but we would never consider it — that is you sell her to a falconer. Personally, I don’t believe in falconry. We want them (birds) to have a good life,” said Belvedere. “But right now we’re just happy to be able to care for her and keep her warm.”

SORCO is actively seeking new volunteers to help with the care of raptors and other services. For more information go to https://www.sorco.org.

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