Injured falcon could fly again

CHESTER – An injured peregrine falcon from Pennsylvania may fly again thanks to the alert actions of a Chester woman and her daughter and son-in-law.

Dana Picciarelli, 60, said she was driving home on California Avenue on the snowy evening of Feb. 17 when she noticed something in the middle of the road.

“The snow was all piled up on the side. As I went around the bend, I saw what I thought was an eagle at first. I knew it was hurt. It wouldn’t move. … She just sat there and looked at me,” Picciarelli said.

Picciarelli called her son-in-law, Mark Snyder, who brought a box and took the peregrine falcon home with him. “You could tell her wing was hurt,” she said.

Snyder and his wife, Toni, kept the bird overnight, feeding it raw steak, while the family reached out for help.

Picciarelli said an official with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources told her to leave the bird alone, that its wing would heal.

“He told me I could get arrested for capturing her,” she said.

So Picciarelli contacted the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, in Morgantown, and made arrangements for them to take the falcon on Feb. 18. The Snyders drove the bird to Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in Morgantown and delivered her to a center volunteer.

X-rays revealed that the falcon had suffered a dislocated elbow and a fractured radius – both in the right wing. Center personnel operated and fixed both injuries, inserting a pin to repair the fracture, said Jesse Fallon, Avian Conservation Center director of veterinary medicine.

The bird is now undergoing therapy under anesthesia three times a week, Fallon said.

“She needs one more week for the fracture to heal, and then we’ll remove the pin … and see how it’s healed,” he said. “Her chances of release are still up in the air. I’d say she has a 50-50 chance of release.”

Fallon said it’s likely, from the nature of the injuries, that the bird either was hit by a car or flew into a window.

“It had to be something high force. She had to be flying at full speed,” he said.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals in the world because of their ability to dive at speeds of up to 180 mph, Fallon said. Their average flight speed is 70 mph, he said.

In order for the bird to survive in the wild, it must have full range of motion and “top athletic performance” so that it can dive properly, Fallon said. Falcons usually hunt by capturing their prey in mid-flight while diving, he said.

“We still need to continue our rehabilitation and then do some outdoor exercising and make sure she’s going to be a success before we release her,” Fallon said.

Upon receiving the falcon, center officials learned from the band on her leg that she had been hatched on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in June 2007. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a banding program for peregrine chicks.

Game commission officials told Fallon that the bird was banded after falling out of its nest. It was placed back in the nest and fledged successfully, Fallon said.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission website, the peregrine falcon was named an endangered species in 1970 but later was taken off the list. Pennsylvania, which has about a dozen breeding pairs, still considers it an endangered species.

“They’re a species of concern,” Fallon said. “As a top-of-the-food-chain predator, they’re one of the species we work hard at getting back out in the wild. They’re slow to reproduce, so each individual (falcon) becomes important to the population. In West Virginia, they’re not common at all.”

Fallon praised Picciarelli and the Snyders for their actions in saving the bird. “It was about as ideal a case of finding, capture, transport and surgery as you can hope for,” he said.

Anyone who finds an injured bird should call a local rehabilitation facility to learn what to do, he said, noting that West Virginia’s Good Samaritan law protects such life-saving actions.

“She’s a pretty bird,” Picciarelli said. “She looks healthier than the day we picked her up.”

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)