We are happy to report that the bird has made a full recovery and will soon be returned to the wild in time to return to Northern Europe for the summer, this time fitted with a state-of-the-art GPS tracker in order for the centre’s dedicated team to follow its journey.
In this video, filmed several months ago, you can see the recovering bird making use of the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel.
Symington Family Estates supports the work of the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre and shares with it the values and commitment of protecting and preserving the wildlife and natural habitats of the Douro. We will be following the release of the falcon into the wild at a Symington Family Estate’s vineyard in the near future.
Since 2011 Symington Family Estates has supported the important work of this specialist centre with which it shares the values and commitment of protecting and preserving all forms of wildlife in the natural habitats of the Douro region. Of the Symington family’s total landholding of 2,118 hectares in the Douro Valley, approximately half is under vine and the remainder is largely made of natural vegetation, woodland, olive groves, fruit orchards, etc. — besides which all the vineyards are managed under integrated production management and organic viticulture, which translates into minimum intervention in the vineyards. This helps safeguard a balanced environment and many of the properties are in effect havens for wildlife.
The young peregrine falcon was brought to the centre on the first of December with a broken wing resulting from a gunshot. He has since undergone surgery and is now being prepared to return to the wild. What is interesting about this particular bird is that he was ringed by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in Morvah, Cornwall in July of last year. As the first ringed bird the group have ever relocated alive in Portugal, it was with great interest that they learned of the 2000 kilometre journey he made before his unfortunate encounter. You can read what they say on their blog, here.
X-ray images show that the bird’s wing was fractured by a relatively close range shotgun blast and some of the shotgun pellets are visible in the x-ray (below), and will now remain in the bird.
Since its surgery the bird’s fracture has consolidated, allowing him to move from intensive care to a semi-covered aviary in which he will be able to further heal. Although a fracture in a bird this size can recover in approximately 3 weeks, it takes significantly longer for a bird to once again become fit for the wild. If things are made too easy for them in captivity they have a tendency to become lazy, something that creates difficulties when they are reintroduced into their natural habitats.
The next step in the bird’s recovery is for him to be introduced into the centre’s flight tunnel. A two-storey, octagonal structure, it is the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula and enables recovering birds to fly continually at some height in order to recover muscle mass. It allows all but the largest birds to manoeuvre in mid-flight, something that would not be possible in smaller tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds, and in particular birds of prey. When the peregrine falcon is capable of flying 500 meters without stopping he will be deemed to have recovered enough muscle mass to be returned to the wild.
Long considered a noble bird, since the Middle Ages the peregrine falcon has been associated with the title of prince in the hierarchy of birds of prey. It is also the fastest member of the animal kingdom, and has been recorded flying at speeds of up to 389 kilometres per hour when diving to strike its prey.
Also in the care of the centre at the moment is a magnificent Eurasian eagle owl, which following several months of care should soon be returned to the wild in one of Symington Family Estate’s vineyards.
Hopefully by March the peregrine falcon will be fit enough to return to the wild accompanied by a GPS tracker that will trace his flight to his summer destination. In the meantime, we will follow his recovery, and the outstanding work of the centre’s dedicated team with several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of months.
Graham’s and all of the Symington Family Estates’ quintas in the Douro – some 944 hectares (2,300 acres) – are on average only about 50% planted with vineyards, with the rest of the land being a mixture of olive or citrus groves and natural vegetation. This creates a richly varied natural habitat for wildlife, and over the years the Symington family have observed a gradual increase in birds of prey in the Douro – a sure sign that other birds and animals in the food chain are thriving and increasing.
So it was with some interest that Paul Symington read an article in the local Douro newspaper about a Birds of Prey recovery unit at the University of Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, and asked António Filipe, SFE’s general manager, to learn more about the program for us. What he learned so impressed the family that last week they visited UTAD to tour the facility and to make a donation on behalf of SFE to help sustain the extraordinary work of the program. The Dean of UTAD, Prof Carlos Alberto Sequeira, welcomed them, and introduced his colleagues who are directly involved with the Birds of Prey program.
UTAD has an extensive program of agrarian sciences, including a school of Veterinary Sciences, headed up by Dr. Filipe Silva, and a veterinary hospital which is open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The staff receive and treat up to 4,500 animals per year, including domestic and exotic pets, horses, farm animals, and any injured wild animals which people have found. The hospital is well designed with extensive facilities for the reception, treatment, surgery and rehabilitation of all these different kinds of animals.
The Centro de Recepção, Acolhimento e Tratamento de Animais Selvagens (The Centre for Reception, Refuge and Treatment of Wild Animals) (CRATAS) is an additional facility which includes areas specifically designed for the rehabilitation of birds of prey. The Centre receives an average of 200 wounded birds each year from right across the Trás os Montes region.
Dr. Roberto Sargo, head of CRATAS, lead the tour through the facilities, explaining the program and showing the family and António some of the current residents, including a trio of Mochos de Orelhas (Scops Owls) the symbol of SFE’s Altano table wines, two magnificent Eagle Owls and a group of Peregrine Falcons, the fastest animal on earth, which can reach speeds over 325 km/h (202 miles per hour) as it dives to hunt. With all the time spent in the Douro, the family are all familiar with many of these birds – and have been known to forget the grapes for a minute to point out an eagle or falcon overhead whilst leading visitors through Quinta dos Malvedos during harvest.
Most of the birds brought in to the centre have been shot, though some have been electrocuted by high tension cables or hit by cars. After any necessary surgery has been performed in a dedicated facility, the birds are housed in a series of spaces of differing sizes, according to their capacity for flight: as the birds regain strength and it is safe for them to begin to fly again, they are moved to progressively taller and longer tunnels with more space to practice, the last being 25 metres in length. In addition, their diet is gradually modified so that in the final stages of recovery they are hunting again within the tunnel, as they would in the wild. The goal is always to return to the wild all birds that can survive again, and their recent release of a black vulture was featured on the news here in Portugal.
We are very pleased and proud to support the work of UTAD and the CRATAS program and the preservation of the birds of prey in the Douro region.