Falcon can’t fly, but now the bird’s an artist

By Cathy Free

If someone said “falcon,” the next word to come to mind probably wouldn’t be “artist.”

But Ferrisburgh, an American kestrel with an injured wing, is headlining art classes in Vermont and drawing crowds with his talented talons.

A couple of paintings done by Ferrisburgh are now being auctioned at a fundraiser online, and the raptor recently showed off his skills at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

About four years ago, the young male kestrel was brought to the bird rescue at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., after he was discovered in the nearby town of Ferrisburgh, a place known for its early art colonies, as well as being a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.

The bird had landed on the shoulder of an unsuspecting person who was out for a walk near his home. The kestrel was loud and chattering away as he perched on the man and was probably looking to be fed, said Anna Morris, director of on-site and outreach programs at the institute.

“The person who brought him in rightly assumed that this was not normal behavior for a kestrel,” she said.

Morris and her colleagues figured that his willingness to approach humans was because he had been kept illegally in captivity. Vermont law requires a person have a permit, along with proper housing and equipment to keep a falcon.

Employees at the rescue center decided to name the kestrel Ferrisburgh after the town where he was found.

The raptor conducted himself as if he had imprinted on humans as a baby, Morris said, so the bird didn’t know how to behave in the wild and probably wouldn’t survive there. Workers at the institute thought the kestrel would make an excellent educational flight ambassador.

For several years, Ferrisburgh’s keepers brought him out during field trips and classes so he could fly back and forth and people could get a close-up look at the smallest member of the falcon family.

They also used the little raptor to teach visitors how to help kestrels in the wild by avoiding pesticides and building kestrel nesting boxes to boost population numbers that have declined by about 50% since the 1970s.

In June, Ferrisburgh’s role at the bird rescue took a turn when he fractured one of his wings and could no longer fly. Mal Muratori, an environmental educator and family programs director at the institute, found the injured bird on the ground one morning in the kestrel’s enclosure, and said it was unclear how he became hurt.

A veterinarian determined that Ferrisburgh had an old fracture and a new fracture in his right wing, Muratori said, adding that the kestrel had metabolic bone disease probably caused by poor nutrition as a young bird.

The kestrel’s keepers wanted to keep him engaged with the public after his injury.

Lexie Smith, an AmeriCorps environmental educator at the institute, had recently watched a friend paint with a crow named Tuck in Tennessee. The crow painted with its beak, using a small sponge that had been dipped into paint. Before coming to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Muratori had also watched a crow paint with a brush.

They wondered if Ferrisburgh might also give painting a try as a form of stimulation and exercise.

“I thought it was a cute idea that could also help to educate people about kestrels,” said Smith, 22. “Ferrisburgh could no longer do what he used to do as an ambassador, but maybe he could do art instead.”






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