3 falcon chicks find hearty city welcome
Local man sees kestrels on top of tires; babies get clean bill of health 
Friday, May 14, 2004
Times Staff Writer eintern@htimes.com 

When Dusty Higdon first came across the three baby birds, he didn't know what to think. 

Higdon, who works at Erwin Marine on South Memorial Parkway, found the birds last Friday when he was working around the back of the south Huntsville boat store. 

"I found them on the top of these tires," he said, pointing to a blue boat trailer parked in the yard. "I'd seen a momma hawk flying around, but I didn't know what kind of birds they were." 

But he knew who might. A friend gave Higdon the number of Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, and refuge officials put him in touch with volunteer Tommy White. White came over, and immediately identified the birds. 

"They're American kestrels," he said. "There's probably less than half-a-dozen pairs nesting in Huntsville." 

American kestrels, formerly known as sparrowhawks, are the smallest American birds of prey and a type of North American falcon. They eat small birds, rodents or grasshoppers, and typically nest in tree cavities. Once a male and female mate, they form a monogamous bond. 

As soon as he identified the three birds, White, who maintains 25 kestrel boxes around Decatur, knew there would be others. "The normal size of a clutch is five, so when I saw three I knew there were probably two more," he said. 

So White searched the store's yard and soon discovered the nest in a metal pipe. Sure enough, there were two of the kestrels' siblings inside. 

The three young kestrels were taken to the Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, south of Birmingham, where they were checked out, fed and given a clean bill of health. 

The Wildlife Center, a volunteer organization, was founded in 1977, and is Alabama's oldest and largest wildlife rehabilitation and education center. Last year during wildlife baby season the center's 24-hour hotline received over a 1,000 calls a month. 

On Thursday, White and Higdon put up a kestrel box for the birds near the original nest, and reunited the brood, as the parents kept a watchful eye from a nearby utility pole. 

"The parents are going to feed them for about another week," said White. "Then they'll fledge (leave the nest) and the parents will teach them how to become kestrels." 

For more information about the Wildlife Center, or to make a donation, call 205-663-7930 or visit www.awrc.org. If you discover an injured or orphaned animal, call the Center's 24-hour hotline at 205-621-3333.