Not So Fast: Prairie Falcon Turns Out to be Rescue Bird

Author: Mark Borden | 04/21/20

Editor’s note: It turns out, the Prairie Falcon creating a buzz among birders in recent months at Crockett Lake Preserve wasn’t such a rare find after all. The falcon is a rescue bird owned by Central Whidbey falconer Mark Borden. Borden received an email alerting him of the attention his bird was getting after news of the falcon circulated in this blog, social media, and later in local newspaper articles. Borden explains his attempt to release the bird into the wild in this guest blog post:

I have been a falconer since I was 12 years old, and a “Master” falconer for almost 40 years.

Prairie Falcon

“He’s a cute little guy and he’s still doing fine,” Central Whidbey falconer Mark Borden says of the Prairie Falcon he rescued that was seen at Crockett Lake Preserve in recent months.

This little Prairie Falcon was one of the 90 percent hatched each year that would not have survived in the wild. He was a rescue, and after months of training still had no aptitude for falconry, but was a really friendly bird and physically healthy. I am a falconer, and keep raptors for the sport of falconry. Birds of prey are not kept as pets, and do not make good pets.

In October, I attempted to find him a home, ideally as a demonstration or education bird, but could not.

In falconry, we have a method of releasing birds into the wild which we call “Hack.” I decided to “Hack” him, in the hope that he would learn hunting skills, while I supplemented his food, and eventually return to the wild. Most falcons will gain their independence over a period of 3-4 weeks, and disperse from the release site. I removed his bracelets and jesses and released him on October 22. My home is ideal for hacking a falcon, as it is in a very open area, with a great vista, including both a natural area (Crockett Lake) and an agricultural area.

“I saw him on Ebey’s Prairie while flying my other falcons, and saw him around the lake, as have others. He would not seem to recognize me away from home, and would keep a greater distance. Each morning he would return home to be fed.” — Mark Borden

Initially, he remained around the house, honing his flying skills and learning to deal with the local Bald Eagles and Red-Tailed Hawks. He started out with a few tense encounters, and once I thought an eagle would catch him, but he then established a relationship of mutual respect with the local birds. His great speed and maneuverability held him in good stead. I released a few European Starlings and English Sparrows for him that had become trapped in our chicken coop and initially he was quite inept. Over the months, though, he became more competent, and eventually caught his first sparrow. I believe he caught his first wild bird in mid November. He continued to be playful, often carrying pieces of horse manure onto the deck, and daily orchestrated “bluff attacks” on the Guinea Fowl.

Prairie Falcon

“He’s coming up on his first birthday,” Mark Borden said of the May 1 occasion. Borden’s Prairie Falcon got a lot of attention from birders when he was spotted at Crockett Lake Preserve in recent months.

I saw him on Ebey’s Prairie while flying my other falcons, and saw him around the lake, as have others. He would not seem to recognize me away from home, and would keep a greater distance. Each morning he would return home to be fed. He would then leave for the day, returning to roost in the same exact spot on our barbecue (on the second floor deck) at night. In January, February, and again in March, I reduced his daily food for a few days, hoping he would demonstrate independence, but each time he became hungrier. It was clear that he would not become independent.

The swallows returned on March 7. We have between 45 and 60 pairs of Violet Green and Tree Swallows that nest on our property each year (in the vinyl fence) and though they did not seem especially concerned with his presence, I was worried that once the young start to fledge, he would be a problem. On March 27, I returned him (we named him “Eagle Basher” though he never “Bashed” any eagles) to his comfortable “Mews.”

He did learn some skills, and I will fly him, or find another falconer to do so during the coming season. He was an excellent photographic candidate, though a bit of an imposter!


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