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A rescued falcon returns home in Russell

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RUSSELL — A young merlin falcon was starving when Sally W. Hartman found him sitting on a stump at her family camp on Boyd Pond.

She and her husband, Kyle D., tried feeding him bread and hamburger, neither of which the bird responded to, before they found a wildlife rehabilitator in Wilmington through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Mr. Hartman pointed to a high nest in a white pine where the bird was born.

“It must have been a hell of a fall,” he said.

The bird, dubbed Foxbait because he easily could have become that, was returned Thursday to his parents after a short rehabilitation. His two siblings have started flying, but Foxbait, a little behind because of his ordeal, is a “brancher,” meaning he hops from tree limb to limb but is not confident with long-range flight yet.

“I’m happy to get him back with his family,” said Mark A. Manske of Adirondack Raptors, Dickinson Center, who brought the bird home with S. Alex Hall, the son of Wendy Hall, who operates Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center, and her intern, Jonas P. Borkholder, along with Brandi L. Saumier, Winthrop, and Derek M. LaBaff, Brasher Falls, recent graduates of St. Lawrence Central School, where Mr. Manske is a teacher.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Miss Saumier, who wants to become a veterinary technician.

The rehabilitators knew Foxbait was starving because a bone in his chest known as the keel was sticking out rather than padded with flesh, so he could have been on the ground for awhile.

Birds of prey are carnivores and do not eat bread. Hamburger is OK short-term but over time does not provide enough calcium and the bird’s bones weaken, Mr. Borkholder said. Raptors prefer mice or baby birds.

One of the refuge’s educator birds fed Foxbait so he would be less likely to imprint on a human, which would make it difficult for him to return to the wild. Most birds do not have a sense of smell, so do not usually reject a fellow species member even if it has been handled by humans, Mr. Manske said.

Rehabilitators wanted Foxbait robust for his return but not too heavy.

“We didn’t want him to be too fat so he would make food noises and his parents would be more apt to feed him,” Mr. Borkholder said.

After Mr. Manske tagged Foxbait, Mr. Hall climbed a hemlock with the bird wrapped and tucked inside his shirt.

“Go high enough that we don’t have to worry about predators but not so high we have to worry about you breaking your neck,” Mr. Manske instructed.

As Mr. Hall reached 20 feet up, Foxbait’s parents circled above, calling to their offspring. Foxbait perched on a branch, flexing his wings. The humans backed off, but hung around to make sure he did well.

Foxbait likely would have died if Mr. and Mrs. Hartman had not found a rehabilitator, but trying to save a wild animal is not always the best approach, Mr. Manske said.

Baby birds other than ducklings or goslings should be returned to their nests or placed in a surrogate nest near where they were found unless they are hurt. In that case, a wildlife rehabilitator can be called. A rehabilitator also might be in order for a bird returned to its nest whose parents ignore it. Rehabilitators will care for ducklings and goslings whose mother is dead or who are rejected.

The same rule applies to many mammal babies.

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