Falcon In The Freezer: Learning In Life, & Death

Sweet Dream My Little Friend
Sweet Dreams My Little Prince

With terrible wind gusts of 35 MPH blowing damp rains all over the Island this morning, I wondered how I would ever find some of our beloved Raptors today. In an extreme case of being-careful-what-you-wish for, I was alerted by Ben Wurst that a deceased Peregrine Falcon had been found in Beach Haven and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ needed someone to hold it in a freezer for them so they could perform a proper necropsy.

I was fumbling for my keys before even responding to Ben to ask “where”. I’m not sure why I reacted so excitedly. A chance to do something useful for the good people at The CWFNJ is certainly something always worth jumping for. But mostly I was concerned this was a PEFA (Peregrine Falcon) we knew. The loss of any of our awesome Raptors is a tragedy, but the loss of a PEFA friend is a special kind of bummer.

It turns out this unfortunate bird, band number 59/AM, is a Little Prince: the little brother of this season’s favorite LBI Peregrine, Josephine Durt. 59/AM is also from the House Flower Pot, upon Crest Of The Wilde Wood. He was found dead beneath a telephone pole in Beach Haven by a landscaper,  who thoughtfully turned him over the Beach Haven Police, who then thoughtfully got word to the CWFNJ, who thoughtfully asked me to keep him safe… so tonight, honey, that’s why there is a PEFA in our freezer.

Talons At Rest
Talons At Rest

I was asked to check for signs of electrocution. I have no idea what that even means, but the good folks at the CWFNJ assured me I would know it when I see it. All I saw was a captivating creature at rest. Having spent so much time observing and following these Magnificent Monsters on the Wild Beach, it was overwhelming to see one so still, to be so close to something so elusive, and to realize how small and fragile they actually are. Like seeing a movie star in person. The first thing you notice is that they are shorter and more delicate than they appeared on screen. As Ben Wurst later commented, they have an attitude much bigger than their physical size; just like us.

I have recently observed Josephine Durt meeting up in the marsh with another juvenile Peregrine and had wondered if they might be siblings. It is interesting to learn for sure that they both had decided to explore LBI after leaving Wildwood Crest. I wonder if Josephine is perched in the rain at Holgate right now, worriedly waiting for her little brother to show up and tell her about all the birds he ate in Beach Haven last night…

But thanks to the good folks at the CWFNJ, his untimely death won’t be a total loss. Having been recovered and safely frozen, a veterinarian can now perform a proper necropsy and more can be learned. According to the Mother-Of-Peregrines, Kathy Clark:

The fact remains true that survival for raptors in the first year is less than 50%, perhaps less than 40%.  It’s important to document mortalities, and for peregrines it tends to be impact injuries – flying into wires in pursuit of prey.  I’ll have our vet do the necropsy.  Electrocution is always possible but less likely in the smaller birds (compared to eagles) because they’re too small to connect the bad wires.  You’d see the signs if that was it.

Thanks to the landscaper who took the time to do something, and to the good people at the Beach Haven Police who took the time to deal with our precious wildlife, the life of another PEFA can be more thoroughly understood and documented, giving even more hope to future generations.

There are still naive and lazy folks out there who don’t understand the fuss, and recommend the laissez-faire approach to wildlife management. The problem is, we were not at all laissez-faire while we poisoned these animals to extinction and destroyed their habitat. So a little extra human caring, effort, ingenuity, and intervention is required to set things a little more in balance. Making a lot of fuss over a dead bird is a tiny, important step in making the beach a better place.

I’m going to go check the freezer… to make sure our Peregrines are comfortable here on LBI, even in death.