Falcon dies despite rescuers' efforts
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
TOM HALLMAN JR.
Wildlife - The bird was found in a ship's smokestack and sent to the Audubon Society
Before she died Tuesday afternoon, they called her the "miracle bird," an appropriate name for a peregrine falcon that had managed to survive being trapped at the bottom of a ship's smokestack for two weeks.
Crew members discovered the soot-covered, emaciated bird on Monday, and she was sent to the Audubon Society of Portland. The rescuers -- who battled for two days to save her life -- gave her the nickname they believed fit the little fighter.
"She went through a lot in that dark engine compartment," said Bob Sallinger, the group's conservation director, who supervised the bird's care. "She was a tough little bird, and her death makes me sad."
Sallinger said the society received a call Monday from crewmen preparing to clean the engine of a ship that had docked at Swan Island after a trip from Alaska. Two weeks earlier, after reaching port, the crew had covered the smokestack while waiting to clean it.
Sallinger said the falcon, a species that likes perching on high ledges, probably fell in and couldn't get out of the narrow stack before it was covered. The bird must have fallen after the ship was docked, he said, because the falcon could not have survived the heat in the smokestack, which reaches 400 degrees.
"When the crew opened a door at the bottom of the stack," he said, "they couldn't believe what they found: a live bird."
Sallinger placed the bird in an incubator. A small tube delivered a steady oxygen flow, and every few hours he injected her with fluids and force fed a concoction he called "goop" -- baby food, fluids and a caloric paste -- down her beak.
"Her breathing became labored, and then her lungs gave out," Sallinger said. "When I open her up, I'm sure I will find she was exposed to massive doses of toxic elements in that smokestack. These are precious birds, and I hate to lose even one."
In 1970, the peregrine falcon was nearly extinct, he said. There were none east of the Mississippi River and only a handful in the West. The bird, he said, had fallen victim to pesticide poisoning from DDT. The federal government banned DDT, and the falcon -- along with other species -- was placed on the federal endangered species list.
"It worked," he said. "In 1980, we found a nest in Crater Lake. By 1994, there were 26 nests in the Portland area. Today, there are 120 nests in Oregon."
Sallinger said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bird from the endangered species list in 1999, and, he said, Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials are expected to remove the falcon from its list Friday.
"This death is the reality of working with wild animals," he said. "We all worked hard. The crewman and everyone here who came in contact with her was in awe of her. She was a good bird."
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