Biologists Release Captive-bred Falcons for First Time in Belize
16 July 2007Rare Orange-Breasted Falcons bred in captivity have been released for the first time to the wild in their traditional territory in Belize to bolster a small and isolated population thought to number fewer than 35 pairs in all of Central America.
Early in July, six chicks were placed in a hack box, a platform that provides a safe haven to the young birds as they learn to fly and hunt. Researchers will feed the birds until they are able to successfully pursue and capture prey on their own.
"This has been one of the most difficult species The Peregrine Fund has ever tried to breed in captivity," said Pete Jenny, President and CEO of The Peregrine Fund, a conservation organization based in Boise, Idaho, that recovers endangered birds of prey. "We're very pleased that, after 20 years of work, we're finally in the position of having enough birds to undertake this first release."
The falcons were bred and raised in captivity by Robert Berry, a research associate and founding board member of The Peregrine Fund, at his breeding facility in Wyoming. A 21-year effort to propagate Orange-Breasted Falcons reached important milestones with the first successful hatch of four falcon chicks in 2006 and seven chicks in 2007. The Peregrine Fund remains the only facility to successfully breed this species in captivity.
The colorful Orange-Breasted Falcon has grown increasingly rare as its habitat in Central and South America is impacted by human development. The birds have vanished from extensive portions of their previous range in Central America, for reasons that scientists don't fully understand. A research project on the falcon's biology is being led by The Peregrine Fund.
"The study of captive-bred falcons in the wild provides biologists with a unique opportunity to understand what limits the species' distribution and abundance without negatively impacting the wild population," Jenny said.
These beautiful, medium-sized falcons once resided in tropical forests from southeastern Mexico through Central America to Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. Orange-Breasted Falcons may be one of the most sparsely distributed falcons in the world. They feed on smaller birds and bats, pursing them at high speeds and catching them in the air. The falcons generally nest on precipitous cliffs like the Peregrine Falcon and occasionally in emergent trees.
The Orange-Breasted Falcon has a white throat, orange upper breast and legs, and yellow toes and skin exposed around the eye, which stand out in sharp contrast to its black head and back. Their huge feet and long, grasping toes make them the most powerfully armed of all falcons relative to body size.
Fieldwork is coordinated and carried out by Angel Muela and Marta Curti, biologists at The Peregrine Fund's field office in Panama.
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