Twice-Rescued Falcon Needs to Relearn How to Hunt

Krypto, a peregrine falcon, was released back into the wild last month, but his stay was short-lived. Soon after, he was found at the entrance of the Superman building. (Peter Green/Providence Raptors photos)

Krypto, a peregrine falcon, was released back into the wild last month, but his stay was short-lived. Soon after, he was found at the entrance of the Superman building. (Peter Green/Providence Raptors photos)

Krypto found at doorstep of Superman building in Providence

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

Krypto the peregrine falcon has an uncertain future. He was so-named because he was a resident of the Superman building, 111 Westminster St. in Providence, and Krypto was the name of the DC Comics dog that landed on Earth from Superman’s home world with superpowers.

The young falcon currently is a resident at the Born to Be Wild Nature Center in Westerly, awaiting a decision that could affect his ability to be released back into the wilds of an urban environment and survive. His rehabilitators hope he has the same resiliency as his namesake.

If you are into birding, you might know Krypto as one of the falcons that literally grew up in front of a Rhode Island Audubon Society nest camera that broadcast online.

Krypto was one of four eggs produced by his mother and father earlier this year. The nestling fledged, or took his first flight, on Father’s Day, June 27. Once fledglings leave the nest, they fly around and perch on buildings for the rest of the summer, taking food from their parents as they learn to hunt, according to Vivian Maxson at Born to Be Wild.

The parents help the process along by flying above the fledglings and dropping prey that they have killed. The fledglings catch the prey as it falls, learning the skills of the hunt.

Of the four birds that hatched, one of them simply disappeared, possibly eaten by one of the other birds or pushed from the nest, Maxson said.

Krypto’s tale of how he became a resident at Born to Be Wild begins when he and his sister chased prey into the upper architecture of the nearby Blue Cross & Blue Shield building. They became trapped between a sheet of glass and steel beams on the roof. Their attempts to fly away resulted in the pair bumping their heads repeatedly on the glass window. It left the birds injured.

Krypto’s sister died after they were taken to a state-licensed wildlife clinic in Saunderstown. When it was determined that Krypto’s injuries weren’t fatal, he was sent to Born to Be Wild for observation and rehabilitation. He arrived July 28 and stayed at the nonprofit facility for eight days.

“We got permission to go on a parking garage near the Superman building,” Maxson said about the falcon’s subsequent release. “He shot out of the box and flew onto the building. I thought it was great that he was reunited with his family.”

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Young, hungry and frightened, Krypto waited for some help outside the Superman building last month.But all was not well with Krypto. For some unknown reason, his mother stopped providing him with food. Seventeen days later, he was found outside the entrance of the Superman building. Someone who knew wildlife photographer and Providence resident Peter Green, who runs the website ProvidenceRaptors.com, contacted him via Twitter to tell him about the falcon.

“I was minutes away,” Green said. “I initially didn’t believe it because it is usually a hawk and not a falcon, but there he was. He could have died on any rooftop but he was in the doorway. It was miraculous. I had everyone back up and give him room to fly but he couldn’t."

The lethargic bird of prey also showed signs of not eating.

The wildlife clinic was called, again. The group made sure to keep the bird from heading out into traffic. Green said that since the nest is right above that doorway it’s possible Krypto tried to reach the nest but failed and literally fell to earth.

So, once again, after being assessed at the clinic in Saunderstown, the falcon was sent back to Born to Be Wild.

“Nothing was wrong,” Maxson said. “He was down one-third of his weight. He was starving. His parents stopped caring for him. Sometimes parents will just pull back, and it’s either sink or swim.”

It didn’t take long for Maxson and her husband, John, to bring Krypto’s weight back up to 800 grams, doing so with a diet of whole quail that they receive frozen and then thaw.

So what happened to Krypto? Maxson believes his inability to successfully hunt might mean that he suffered head trauma that impairs his judgment, or he needs to relearn how to hunt.

“Birds don’t tell you what is wrong,” she said.

The big test is to have master falconer Dick Morrison of Cape Cod take Krypto and train him to see if he can survive on his own. That training involves plenty of open space, and it requires an investment of a few thousand dollars in telemetry equipment that is attached to the bird so it can be tracked.

“Dick will train him to catch birds,” Maxson said. “If he passes the test, he will be released.”

That training involves using food as a reward, to get the falcon to sit on his gloved hand and respond to a whistle. Maxson said Krypto will learn the whistle means he will be fed, and given the choice, a falcon will choose a free meal and land.

Once Krypto is conditioned, Morrison will take the bird out and when he sees a flock of birds, release him. Normally, once a falcon kills prey, he goes to the ground to eat, and that is when Morrison can reacquire the young bird.

However, to get the bird to Cape Cod requires permission from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. What makes it difficult is that falcons are still considered an endangered species in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, although Maxson noted there numbers are strong and growing.

She said there are nesting pairs at Pawtucket City Hall and the old Armory in Providence.

So far, DEM has given its permission to allow the bird to go to Massachusetts, but the Maxsons are awaiting word from the federal agency. The Maxsons say they don’t know what they will do if that permission isn’t granted. An answer is expected in the next few weeks.

Falcons thrive in Providence because of the abundance of prey. They will eat starlings, grackles and pigeons, an occasional sea gull and even a hawk, according to John Maxson.

“Peregrines are dangerous birds (to their prey),” he said. “They are the fastest killer of all birds of prey because of the design of their beak. They use the beak to snap the vertebrae of their prey.

“They can fly as fast as 237 mph in a vertical drop.”

They have a baffle in their nose that diffuses air, so they don’t suffocate at those high speeds, Vivian said.