Injured peregrine falcon recovers in the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro

At the beginning of December 2015, the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, Portugal, was entrusted with the care of a young, male peregrine falcon. Shot, presumably by hunters, near the town of Esposende on the Northern coast of Portugal, the bird was making his first migration south for the winter.

Since 2011 Symington Family Estates has supported the important work of this specialist centre with which it shares the values and commitment of protecting and preserving all forms of wildlife in the natural habitats of the Douro region. Of the Symington family’s total landholding of 2,118 hectares in the Douro Valley, approximately half is under vine and the remainder is largely made of natural vegetation, woodland, olive groves, fruit orchards, etc. —  besides which all the vineyards are managed under integrated production management and organic viticulture, which translates into minimum intervention in the vineyards. This helps safeguard a balanced environment and many of the properties are in effect havens for wildlife.

The young peregrine falcon was brought to the centre on the first of December with a broken wing resulting from a gunshot. He has since undergone surgery and is now being prepared to return to the wild. What is interesting about this particular bird is that he was ringed by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in Morvah, Cornwall in July of last year. As the first ringed bird the group have ever relocated alive in Portugal, it was with great interest that they learned of the 2000 kilometre journey he made before his unfortunate encounter. You can read what they say on their blog, here.

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The vets, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo examining the peregrine falcon

X-ray images show that the bird’s wing was fractured by a relatively close range shotgun blast and some of the shotgun pellets are visible in the x-ray (below), and will now remain in the bird.

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X-ray of the peregrine falcon
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The peregrine falcon’s injured wing

Since its surgery the bird’s fracture has consolidated, allowing him to move from intensive care to a semi-covered aviary in which he will be able to further heal. Although a fracture in a bird this size can recover in approximately 3 weeks, it takes significantly longer for a bird to once again become fit for the wild. If things are made too easy for them in captivity they have a tendency to become lazy, something that creates difficulties when they are reintroduced into their natural habitats.

The next step in the bird’s recovery is for him to be introduced into the centre’s flight tunnel. A two-storey, octagonal structure, it is the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula and enables recovering birds to fly continually at some height in order to recover muscle mass. It allows all but the largest birds to manoeuvre in mid-flight, something that would not be possible in smaller tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds, and in particular birds of prey. When the peregrine falcon is capable of flying 500 meters without stopping he will be deemed to have recovered enough muscle mass to be returned to the wild.

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Dr Daniel Mosteiro, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo (left to right) outside the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel

Long considered a noble bird, since the Middle Ages the peregrine falcon has been associated with the title of prince in the hierarchy of birds of prey. It is also the fastest member of the animal kingdom, and has been recorded flying at speeds of up to 389 kilometres per hour when diving to strike its prey.

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Dr Roberto Sargo preparing to weigh a Eurasian eagle owl

Also in the care of the centre at the moment is a magnificent Eurasian eagle owl, which following several months of care should soon be returned to the wild in one of Symington Family Estate’s vineyards.

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The Eurasian eagle owl in the care of the rescue and recovery unit

Hopefully by March the peregrine falcon will be fit enough to return to the wild accompanied by a GPS tracker that will trace his flight to his summer destination. In the meantime, we will follow his recovery, and the outstanding work of the centre’s dedicated team with several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of months.

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The Veterinary Hospital at UTAD
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