American kestrel chicks, rescued by the Memphis Zoo’s raptor rehab program
I helped out with the raptor program on a regular basis during my zoo career, mainly documenting in photos all of the birds that came in and creating a database of shots showing the development of chicks week by week. Birds brought in had often been hit by cars, wounded by gunshot, blown out of their nest as chicks, or had collided with power lines. Sometimes nests were discovered in industrial or construction sites and the chicks had to be brought in. On one memorable occasion, a clutch of barn owls was rescued from the top of an enormous crane many stories high that had been sitting idle. I am not sure what the story was with these little kestrels, but it was most likely a case of their nest being blown down in a storm.
Day old barn owl chick held by raptor rehab specialist Knox Martin, Memphis Zoo. I documented the growth of this chick and its siblings on a week to week basis for 8 weeks. It was fascinating to observe the astonishingly rapid change in its appearance. This bird and its siblings were released into the wild at the Ames Plantation–superb barn owl habitat–not far from Memphis.
In addition to documenting the growth of chicks and birds-on-the-mend, I also assisted with the release of many of the rehab birds back into the wild. It was always a gratifying moment to see an eagle, hawk, or falcon take wing again after the long, labor-intensive process of rehabilitation. Knox Martin, head of the raptor program, did not receive extra pay from his keeper salary to work with these birds– it was sheerly a voluntary labor of love on his part and required constant diligence, many long hours, and single-minded dedication to succeed. The zoo’s vet staff also volunteered many hours of surgery and monitoring time to help heal these birds and restore them to the wild.
Species that benefitted from the rehab program included bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons and American kestrels, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s (pictured above) and sharp-shinned hawks, ospreys, barred/barn/great horned/screech owls, Mississippi kites, and black/turkey vultures. These kestrel chicks–little falcons in miniature that are often seen hovering over fields at the side of the road– were successfully reared and returned to the wild.
It was always funny to hear an announcement over our zoo radios for Knox Martin to go to the main zoo gate, that someone had called to say that they were on their way with a “baby eagle”. Invariably, it turned out to be a kestrel, a red-tail chick, and on one memorable occasion, a pigeon in a shoebox.
Knox Martin with barn owl chicks
About ten years ago, the Memphis Zoo discontinued the raptor program, which was then privatized and moved to a new headquarters at the Shelby Farms Conservancy (where I’ve spent so much time over the past year studying the bison herd). Shelby Farms Conservancy is the nation’s largest urban park– at over 4500 acres it is 5 times larger than Central Park in NYC. Visit the Mid-South Raptor Center website here: http://www.midsouthraptorcenter.com/