The birds hatched on a ledge on top of an office building in Melbourne. The job fell to me when one of them had to be rescued.
In Melbourne, we are fortunate to have our city breeding birds of prey.
Yet things can still go wrong. A peregrine falcon was in danger on Christmas night and had to be saved. The assignment fell to me.
Not just any bird was this bird.
It was one of three female peregrine falcons nesting in a nest box on a ledge 150 feet up in an office building on Collins Street.
From late August to mid-November, during our second lockout, viewers of a livestream camera pointing at the nest were spellbound as the parents raised them.
The interest was immense. The “nestcam” was viewed 2.3 million times and accessed on social media tens of thousands of times.
We saw them turn into brave fledglings, screeching and galloping up and down the ledge like feathered elephants, from wet, whistling chicks to soft, begging nestlings. Before our eyes, they grew, fed on pigeons, lorikeets and honeyeaters, some of which were still alive – disturbingly.
Activity increased in the week before they fled (left the nest). The fledglings, with streaky brown feathers and only a few down threads, had grown to adult size. They were fluttering and building muscles like crazy. Screeching, the parents flew back and forth to draw the young into the air.
Mother and dad often declined food, less kindly, so that their offspring would lose weight and be able to take their maiden flight better.
Then, about seven a.m. It occurred on Nov. 13th. In hours, the sisters left, flying for the first time at only 42 days old.
We were drinking toast, laughing and weeping. Our nest-camera addiction was over; we were able to return to our neglected jobs, schools and home offices.
The central business district of Melbourne was home to the birds for the next month; the parents continued to provide food until the youngsters learned to hunt. They spotted all five; things seemed to be going well.
And that’s really where this story starts.
One of the birds was discovered outside the Collins Street shoe store on November 18, five days after fleeing.
It was thought that she had a concussion, but she immediately jumped into the air and landed in a tree. I was asked the next day to test her.
This was done quickly. The tree she had perched in, at the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets, had large amounts of bird poop on the sidewalk below.
Yet it had vanished.
Then, on Christmas night, news surfaced of another drama: a stranded hawk on the balcony of a Flinders Street apartment. The hawk had gotten lost, landed, and couldn’t get off the ground.
Incredibly, a family of hawk watchers had recognized the young bird. Their message reached a wildlife keeper, who called me around 9:30 pm.
“Would you save him? You’re a hawk lover,” she said. (I am; I’ve been watching them for years and hosted the live-stream chat this year.)
But there are a lot of people more qualified to rescue hawks than I am.
As it happens, they were busy – or a bit “Christmasy” – that night.
I thought for two seconds.
If I said no, I would regret it.
If I said yes, how would I do it? What if he slashed at me, with his carnivorous beak and razor-sharp claws? The clock was ticking; if the hawk fought long enough, he might die of exhaustion.
So no pressure.
As it happens, I’ve rescued a few injured animals.
It’s a matter of ambushing them, restraining them, and getting them into a container. You have to catch the critter before it gets you with sharp or biting objects.
“I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” I said.
At 10:15 p.m., I crossed Princes Bridge, which was filled with crowds looking at the Christmas lights.
In the elevator to the 28th floor, I carried a cardboard box, a flashlight and a polar fleece blanket.
And a large dose of excitement and fear.
The family led me into a darkened living room that opened onto the balcony.
I could see the silhouette of a raven-sized bird against the clear glass of the balcony’s corner, facing the bright, nighttime view of lit buildings and flowing traffic. How small it seemed, for such a legendary bird.
The wonderful view was how a bird sees the world from above s