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The Peregrine Fund releases Orange-breasted Falcons in Belize to recover regionally endangered species

BOISE, Idaho – In the predawn hours on June 6, 2011, a Pilatus PC 12 piloted by volunteer conservation pilot Jack Long departed the small Sheridan County, Wyoming, airport carrying a precious cargo of five regionally endangered Orange-breasted Falcons, four biologists, and about 800 frozen quail as food for the falcons, bound for the remote and rugged Maya Mountain of Belize to help restore a species now thought to number fewer than 40 pairs in Central America.

“It required a masterpiece of international cooperation from health and wildlife authorities in both countries,” said Robert B. Berry, founding board member of The Peregrine Fund and director of the Orange-breasted Falcon program. “The coordination and timing had to be flawless to get the three female and two male falcons to their destination at the proper age, and it was.”

Mr. Berry propagated the falcons in Sheridan, Wyo., where he has successfully produced 40 chicks in captivity since 2006 and released 26 to the wild in an ongoing program with Belize.

The flight stopped in Houston to clear customs and pass inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before arriving later that afternoon in Belize City. The falcons and the rest of the cargo then continued their journey to the large undisturbed tracts of rainforest in the Maya Mountains.

“After a rest stop overnight at the Hidden Valley Inn, a cooperating eco-lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge, the young birds were transported to the hack site on private land owned by Bull Run Ltd.,” Mr. Berry said. “At the hack site, the birds will be fed defrosted quail and monitored around the clock for the next three to four months as they gradually learn to hunt for themselves and are weaned from our care.”

“When we transferred the first chick to the hack box, we were thrilled to see a male falcon from our 2010 release (band number blue B1) perch close by in a tall pine. Upon seeing the fledgling, he began vocalizing and diving at us, which some of our attendants felt was a welcome,” said Dr. Scott Newbold, field director of the program. “His acrobatics were breathtaking!”

“Seeing the yearling male was very encouraging sign for our program, which has yet to be successful in establishing a mated pair, although the male’s antics were more likely territorial than friendly with risks and rewards we can only hypothesize,” Mr. Berry said. “When the young birds gain independence this fall, they will become a part of the dwindling population of a true rainforest icon, a rare and spectacular flagship species of the neo-tropics.”

The reasons for the falcon’s population decline in Central America are unclear. Mr. Berry cited deforestation, agriculture, and urban development as potential threats and the burgeoning Black Vulture population as a major threat because they take over falcon nesting cliffs, displacing the adults, and probably consume eggs and young.

Other partners in the recovery project include the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the University of Wyoming.

Did you know?

  • Orange-breasted Falcons prey on medium-sized birds, particularly doves, parakeets, and swifts, as well as bats.
  • Females typically lay 3 eggs and do nearly all of the incubating and brooding, while males provide food for her and the offspring. Chicks hatch in 30 days and are capable of flight in about 45 days.
  • Unlike many temperate-zone falcons that disperse shortly after fledging, the juveniles are dependent upon their parents for up to four months.
  • The species is non-migratory and adults remain in the vicinity of their eyries throughout the year.
  • Relative to its body size, the female of the species has the largest and most powerful legs and feet of any falcon species, which presumably evolved in the fearless protection of eggs and young from predators and to quickly dispatch dangerous quarry such as parrots.
  • It often is mistaken for the similarly plumaged but much smaller and common Bat Falcon.
  • The Peregrine Fund has studied these rare falcons for three decades. In 2006, chicks were produced successfully in captivity for the first time since 1980.

For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner
Director of Global Engagement
Main Phone:     208-362-3716
Direct Phone:     208-362-8277