I just got back from the release of 4 young kestrels. These small-ish raptors have been in the care of the Wildlife Care Center that is associated with the Vet College at Iowa State University.
Earlier I got the call from my daughter, who volunteers there four days a week. One of the staff members sent her a text that they were going to release these birds, so Tess called me to come "quick!" I jumped into my Birks and headed out the door. As I pulled into the small parking lot along the river at the designated spot, J.C. and another staff member were unloading a small animal carrier covered with a surgical drape. I could hear some very vocal prisoners letting whoever was within earshot that they were ready to fly.
Sadly, more often than not, these injured animals are beyond repair when they are brought into the center. Most recently, there was a blue heron that dropped out of the sky into a family's backyard when poisonous chemicals rendered it too weak to fly. There have been owls, eagles, and hawks who have met their fate on the grill of a vehicle. The latest victim of the car vs. animal tangle is a fawn with a broken pelvis. Things are not looking up for this little guy, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.
So days like today are a triumph. When an animal is returned to the wild, the center has accomplished what it is there to do...rehabilitate wildlife so that it can be returned to its native habitat. This is a good thing. Tess says once an animal becomes feisty and hard to handle, once they can kill their prey rather than having to be force-fed with bits of cut-up frozen rat or mice, then they have graduated from this program and are ready to "fly."
J.C. opened the door and out popped one of the kestrels. Then another and another. Rather than taking off, they just sat and sized up this new situation. Out of nowhere, one very large robin dive-bombed the group of us, but especially those kestrels. Obviously, they did not know who they were messing with. One of the raptors took flight. Then the rest followed. They landed in the lower canopy and took in their new surroundings. One robin became two and the noise of robin vs. kestrel told us it was time to leave these birds to figure out things for themselves.