When Good Kestrels End Up In The Gutter
It’s a beautiful day, you’re out birding, and you come across a bird who, instead of perching 20 feet over your head or winging its way past your face, is standing on the ground with its wing askew, wearing a dismayed expression. What do you do?
You pick it up (carefully, if it’s a goshawk) and bring it to me. Or to one of my cohorts, of whom there aren’t nearly enough, and who are hidden across the country in a “Where’s Waldo?” pattern (except for Julie Zickefoose – we all know where she is, we just can’t get to her.) I’m a bird rehabilitator, and my beat on 10,000 Birds will be to showcase the kinds of trouble wild birds get into, then rant about them until you beg me to stop.
This first case of trouble was due to the human penchant for constructing buildings. Normally the bird/building problem consists of the bird striking a window, or being trapped inside, but this one was a bit more unusual.
You see that little head sticking up from the gutter, where it joins the building on the left? The building is an indoor riding ring, and the bird is an American Kestrel. One morning last March, the owner spotted him thrashing around up there and called me. She supplied a ladder, and I climbed to the top; there I found the beautiful little falcon, who gazed at me silently and in horror. After 20 years of rehabbing I’ve learned not to take reactions like this personally, so I did the forensic guesswork we all have to do when our patients clam up and refuse to explain their circumstances.
The previous day was unseasonably warm, and the sun must have melted the ice in the gutter where the kestrel had decided to perch. That afternoon the temperature dropped, and the small puddle of water in which his tail was resting re-froze. The next morning he probably fell over trying to get away, and one of his talons wedged under the lip of the gutter. So there he was, stuck not once, but twice. I regarded him, wishing he was a snipe so I could call him a…never mind.
Anyway, it turned out to be quite cold for the next few days, so if not for the sharp-eyed stable owner, he would have met his fate. Instead I extricated his talon, melted the ice with a cup of hot water, freed his tail, and gave him a quick physical. Except for a few lightly frayed tailfeathers, he was good to go. I tossed him into the air and off he flew into the woods, where, with luck, he’s still passing on the word that gutters are not the wisest places to perch when temperatures fluctuate.