PAWTUCKET — Vivian Maxson calls them “The Twins,” two six-week-old Peregrine Falcon siblings just learning how to fly – that is when they’re not gorging themselves on fresh quail meat or preening themselves in their 40-foot flight cage.
Maxson, who runs the Westerly-based Be Wild Nature Center, a wildlife rehabilitation center that specializes in the care of raptors, has been caring for the two falcon fledglings for the past week, ever since they were found on the ground not far from their nest on top of Pawtucket City Hall.
The two baby falcons aren’t exactly overachievers when it comes to learning how to fly, but they’re coming along, Maxson says.
“He’s like a 16-year-old boy in a Ferrari with a lot of crash landings,” says Maxson, “and his sister is quite the diva who is content to just sit on her perch and preen her feathers all day. They’re quite happy and healthy. It’s just that they’re lacking certain skills.”
The twins’ days of free food, housing and medical care are coming to an end, however.
On Thursday, the two baby falcons will be going back home to Pawtucket where they will be released and reunited with their parents and two other siblings. Maxson says the plan is to release them back into the wild around 10 a.m. from the roof of the Pawtucket fire station, located adjacent to City Hall.
“Everyone’s pretty excited. We love the releases. This is what we live for,” says Maxson.
A little over a week ago, things weren’t looking so good for the two fledglings, which were found by passersby on the ground about a block from their eyrie in a tower high atop City Hall on Roosevelt Avenue.
“This is the time of year when birds start to fledge and these two particular Peregrine Falcons were practicing their flying, but weren’t doing so well,” says Maxson. “They were found on the ground not moving, about a block away. The female was on a fire escape and the male was on a sidewalk.”
The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) sent out a wildlife biologist, who made arrangements to have the baby birds stay with Maxson at the Born To Be Wild Nature Center, which is licensed by the DEM and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help injured and orphaned wildlife.
The falcons have been staying inside a 40-foot flight cage where they have spent the past week practicing their flying skills, albeit not very gracefully.
“Can they fly? Yes. Do they know they know they can fly? No,” says Maxson.
Instead of becoming what they were born to be - the fastest flying bird in the world capable of diving at 200 mph – the twins are content to sit around and munch on fresh quail meat, which comes closest to mimicking pigeon their natural food source.
On the big day Thursday, Maxson anticipates the young falcons will have little problem reuniting with their parents and two siblings and will, once released, continue to hone their flying skills by flying from building ledge to building ledge and practicing their thermal soaring.
“The parents are still there and will feed them well into late summer,” she says.
Peregrines have a distinctive appearance. The head and neck area are blackish with a dark wedge of coloration extending below the eyes that forms a “helmet” or hooded appearance. The throat, chin, and ear patch are contrasted by white feathers. The upper body ranges from a bluish-black or slate gray to rich brown.
Peregrine falcons have adapted to living in cities and make use of tall buildings that provide suitable ledges for nesting and depend on the large populations of pigeons and starlings in cities for food. Peregrine falcons mate for life and breed in the same territory each year.
Peregrines are probably best known for their amazing flight speed in pursuit of prey. Prey may be spotted from a daytime roost or while circling high in the sky. The falcon attacks by swooping; the wings are folded so that they are nearly parallel, and the bird dives headfirst toward its prey at speeds that may exceed 200 mph. The falcon will then strike the prey with its talons, usually killing it upon impact. The prey may be retrieved in midair or from the ground.
Maxson has been rescuing wildlife for 16 years. She became a certified wildlife rehabilitator in 1998 and over the years has helped thousands of animals and birds.
Born To Be Wild Nature Center is a non-profit, all volunteer organization that relies on donations to do its work.
The center handles about 60 calls a year and 90 percent of the birds who come in for help are hit by cars.
“Our passion is raptors,” says Maxson who maintain five flight cases on her four-acre property in the Westerly village of Bradford. “We’re the only ones in the state who specialize in the care of raptors, which includes hawks, owls and falcons.”
If you find an injured wild animal, Born To Be Wild Nature Center can be reached by calling (401) 377-8489. You can also call the Wildlife Clinic at (401) 294-6363 for a list of rehabilitators in your area. Born To Be Wild Nature Center can also be found on Facebook.
Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @ jofitz7