By Sharon St Joan
“Someone had thrown her into a tiny cage, with no perches, and thrown a hotdog in with her. When she arrived, she was at death’s door.”
Debbie Pappas, Founder and Executive Director of Second Chance Wildlife, in Price, Utah, recalled the young female kestrel brought to her on July 3, 2015. She arrived around the same time as a young male kestrel found near Salt Lake City. Both were young and suffered from failure to thrive, a condition that can afflict young birds when, for whatever reason, they just don’t seem to grow up normally and do well.
The young male was soon released, but the female took a little longer to recover.
The person who had brought the kestrel to Second Chance Wildlife, after the young bird had spent two or three days in her cage with the uneaten hotdog, didn’t intend to be unkind. In fact she had done the best she could to help the kestrel. Very few people have any idea how to care for birds in distress – or where to take them to get help.
If you find a bird who needs help, a cardboard box is a much better choice than a wire cage because a wild bird will hurt her feathers on the wire. The box will need several small air holes and to be taped shut on the top. Being in the dark will help the bird to stay quiet and calm. A wild bird cannot eat a hot dog – instead don’t feed him anything and don’t give him any water. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator right away for instructions on what to do (you can find one online) – and where to transport the bird for expert help.
Within a few days, after some skilled care, the “hotdog” kestrel began look a lot brighter. (There’s a reason for not giving wild birds a name. To be released successfully back to the wild, they need to remain wild. They are not pets and must never be treated in too friendly a way. That’s a cardinal rule of wildlife rehabilitation.)
This summer, Debbie Pappas has received three or four groups of kestrels and many individuals. This is without counting all the hundreds of other birds she has rehabilitated this year – from eagles to doves and songbirds. But there have been over twice as many kestrels as usually come in – usually eight to ten arrive, but this year, so far, there have been 26 kestrels.
With one group of kestrels, Debbie released most of them, but held one back, although he was ready to go, so that he could serve as a teacher, for the little “hotdog” kestrel.
In no time, he showed her the major survival skills she would need out in the wild. They were both released together at Desert Lake, between Price and Huntington. When Debbie opened the carrier, he took off first. She crouched down on the floor for a while, then flew out, and circled around, landing in a tree. Just at that moment some people from Colorado drove by, they realized that Debbie was releasing rehabilitated birds. They pulled out their binoculars and were thrilled to be able to watch as the little female kestrel flew free toward the sky, back in the wild again.
Debbie has observed that the populations of kestrels over the years tend to rise and fall with food availability.
A major cause of harm to kestrels which causes them to come into rehabilitation is poison – from mouse poison to grasshopper poison. People, not knowing what to do, become frantic, and look for a quick, lethal way to get rid of animals they consider pests. For pest problems, there are natural deterrents that can be found online. For example, praying mantises will eat grasshoppers.
Kestrels also love to eat grasshoppers, as well as mice.
It’s really counter productive to poison the mice or the grasshoppers because it also kills the kestrels and other birds, which simply means that there will be a much bigger, harder-to-resolve mouse or grasshopper problem the following year since the natural predators have been killed off.
The policy of “kill first – think second” is not only unkind; it just doesn’t work well. So encourage your friends and your neighbors, whenever there is any kind of a “pest” problem to look for a natural solution online that doesn’t involve poison — or even better, with patience, often nature will take care of itself – if we allow the natural predator/prey balance to take its course.
Thanks to Debbie Pappas and other wildlife rehabilitators who spend long days and nights, caring for orphaned and injured wildlife, and restoring them to good health and release back to the wild to live out their natural lives in freedom.
It’s a great idea to get to know a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area – look for one online – that way, should you find any wild animal in distress, you’ll know where to turn.
Photo: Courtesy of Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation
To visit the website of Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation, click here.
To visit their Facebook page, click here.