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Kestrel Falcons: Rescuing Birds at Green Chimneys

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Paul Kupchok, Wildlife Specialist: We're so proud of David for being one of the first and only students to ever really want to become a licensed New York State falconer and follow through on it. It's quite a process. It's very involved and takes a lot of dedication to become a licensed falconer, and David, as I just said, we're really, really proud of you. You're doing a great job. How's everything going?

David: It's been going pretty good. I've got the papers. I've been going over the test. I've been going over what I need, figuring out how much money it's going to cost. And all I've got to do now is just start the building of the cage. ... Birds of prey do not make good pets. There's definitely a big, big violation of the law there, just taking the bird out of its environment without a license.

Kupchok: Now, one of the things that I've told you is that birds want to be on the higher part of your hand rather than the lower part of your hand, so as I lower mine, you raise yours, and he's just going to want to go up to the higher perch. See that? And that ... remember what we said about your fingers here, grabbing this leash? Tell us something about the guy that you like so much, this little American Kestrel?

David: Well, he's probably been here for pretty much most of his life, and he's what's called "imprinted," which means he can't go back in the wild because his fear of us [humans] is now completely gone.

Kupchok: Biologists and other scientists feel that the raptor's eye can see eight to ten times further than a human's eye. Now, if I hold your fist here and we gently roll the fist, he's going to feel a little unbalanced, and we'll get a chance to look at those wings. See that? Falcons have those long, pointed wings, versus the rounder wings of the hawks and the eagles.

David: "Baiting" is when the bird will hop off the glove and fly around a little bit around and under the glove, and then it'll come back up on the glove in a different spot.

Kupchok: Why do we wear a glove?

David: Probably two reasons. One, just in case you haven't had the bird vaccinated for certain things, you don't want to get any disease transferred to your hand. And you also want to protect your hands from the talons themselves or the beak.

Kupchok: Tell us about the talons a little bit. Why do we need to protect ourselves from the talons?

David: Talons are needle-sharp. They're used to capture prey. They're very strong. And they're probably one of the most dangerous parts of the bird itself. We feed them mice, gerbils, rats, quails, and day-old chicks. ... It really makes me feel very good that I'm letting out birds, letting birds go free after a couple of weeks here—having to learn how to fly all over again, how to keep their wings strong. ... It's really a very good feeling to know that you've done a good job.

Green Chimneys School is an innovative educational facility and learning environment located in Brewster, New York, where kids with learning challenges who have struggled in traditional educational settings develop trust in themselves and their abilities through special programs such as the school's world-famous animal-assisted therapies and humane education programs at its famous wildlife center.

At Green Chimneys' Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, faculty and students give injured birds of prey first aid and shelter until they are ready for release back into their native habitat, or, if they can no longer survive in the wild, a permanent home at Green Chimneys. David is working toward becoming a licensed New York State falconer.

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