Whenever the Illinois Raptor Center help someone with a wildlife problem without the animal ever coming into the wildlife center, we call it a "Silent Save." David Staff was moved to write an essay about his experience with an American kestrel in his back yard. Here is his story.
Is doing nothing to help wildlife better than doing something? Read this article and form your own opinion. Understanding what you are seeing, or making a phone call may be the best step you can take to save an animal.
On Tuesday I was standing in the checkout line at a local office supply store when I received a phone call.. I was told that I needed to get home since there was an injured bird sitting on the bird feeder. I am an avid photographer and here was the chance to capture an American Kestrel on film
Arriving home I found the bird had been on the bird feeder for about an hour. Grabbing a 90-300mm lens, I started shooting and working my way toward the bird, trying not to disturb it. This bird was not showing any signs of distress and was letting me closer than I even dreamed possible. Being able to get closer than the lens would shoot (6 feet) I retrieved my 24-85mm lens. Approaching this bird was easy. I was shooting pictures in the 2-4 foot range.
Watching this bird confused me. It did not seem injured, but it made no attempt to avoid my presence. My thought was this is a pet that has gotten away. Now what do I do? This thing will never survive in the wild. I need to do something, but what?
I made a couple of calls. The first was to Macon County Conservation District at Rock Springs. The next call was made to me. The (Warrensburg) returned a call that had been made to it earlier. I then called the Illinois Raptor Center in Harristown, IL.
We talked for a while. They asked me some questions about what I saw. I described the bird and it behaviors. They asked if it had certain markings. After the information exchange, it was decided it was a baby male American kestrel, also known as a sparrow hawk. It is the smallest and probably most colorful Falcon in the state of Illinois.
After reassuring me that it was okay, and also telling me what I should do if it were sick, they said that it might stay in this spot for 2-3 hours. It was learning to fly and would do it on its own time. They also informed me that the parents were watching. They have 5-6 babies when they lay their eggs. The babies would be spread around the neighborhood, and the parents were observing them all. They also said to sit back and enjoy it since I would be able to see something that most people don,t get to see. They were right. I thanked them and hung up the phone.
I was having the time of my life. I was standing there taking pictures (3.5 rolls) and observing wild creatures close up. It was amazing this bird could not fly, but still ruled the backyard. Birds would fly in, and see it before landing. This became a no-fly zone. Hardly anything landed in the yard. They knew what was there. If a bird did land, it did not stay long.
The Falcon did a little pacing on top of the feeder, but did not move around much. After 45 minutes, it started getting restless. It seemed to me it wanted to fly. It started to stretch in preparation. It seemed to want to shake hands with me before it left. I felt my time with it was coming close to an end.
Standing there behind the camera, about two feet away from the hawk, I saw what I was looking to see. It started to fly. It took off, and I ducked. It just grazed the top of my head, and landed about 3 feet behind me. It just sat there. It looked around and just sat there.
Five minutes later it hopped over to a peony bush. With it sitting in the bush for a couple minutes I took a couple more shots. It then hopped over to a branch on the ground. I took a couple more images of the Falcon. Then something I would never thought I would see happened.
The Falcon hopped over to a tree. Remember this bird has not been able to fly. It was standing at the base of a tree. It did something I would never thought a bird could do. It climbed the tree. Yes, that is right. It was parallel to the ground, with it talons digging in the tree, flapping its wings and walking up the tree. It would go a short distance and take a break, resting on a limb. Then it would start over.
Finally it made it to a satisfactory perch, overlooking the yard. It still was in control, even though it posed no immediate threat to any of the birds in the yard. Birds were starting to land in the trees and wires. The Falcon would make a noise, and every bird in the yard took to the air. These birds new the sound; and the Falcon was learning that it caused other birds to flee.
Eventually four starlings arrived on the scene. They surrounded the young bird, and really pestered it. Fifteen minutes of this torment and the starlings left. I was amazed. This baby falcon could not fly, but still was in control.
All the time the falcon was in the tree, I was watching the sky. Sure enough, in the air was a parent watching their young. It would clear the roof line of my house, and as soon as it saw me, it would bank and fly away.
I decided it was time to go in the house. This bird had taught me that nature, has its ways, and we should let it run its own course. It had taught me what we perceive is not always reality. It had taught me to sit and enjoy the treats that nature can show us. It allowed me into its world for a while. I had been able to observe this bird in ways that I may never have the opportunity to do again. It was time for me to go inside. I needed to leave it alone and let its parents have the comfort it needed to feed and coax this bird to fly.
After going inside, I had to go back outside a couple of times to take care of some things, and would check on the bird. It would still be in the tree in the same spot. Forty five minutes later I had to leave home, and it was still there. I ran my errand, and arriving home, I check on my friend. The falcon was gone. I imagined it learned to fly.
Sometimes we try to do too much. Helping this bird would have caused it to lose it freedom. My thought was that the bird was sick or a pet. Why? I did not understand what I saw. I made some phone calls, and found that this bird's actions were normal.
By letting it do its thing, I was able to experience something special. I am glad I made that call.
I called the Raptor Center the next day and told them what I had seen. They were enthused that I was able to see and record what I saw. As we talked they told me that they were there to help injured raptors and animals and to reintroduce them to the wild. They also said they were there to do something else. They are willing to inform people about the wildlife around them. They did what is known as a silent save. They saved this bird's life. I wanted to get this bird some help. I thought it was injured. That phone called saved the bird's life. That to me is special.
The pictures are what I observed. This would only have been possible with the silent save. I know there are many American kestrels out there, but next time you see one, realize the one you are looking at, may be the one whose life was saved by a phone call.
Enjoy the nature before your eyes. Help when the help is needed, but avoid interference whenever possible. Stay informed. It will help you and others enjoy our backyard treasures.
Copyright David Staff, David Staff Imagery