Small Animal Clinic searches for escaped falcon

By Charlotte Collins

An American kestrel falcon escaped from her handler at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s small animal clinic around 8 a.m. Tuesday morning

The falcon, named Thistle, escaped during a routine walk on the gloved hand of her handler. Julia Whittington, wildlife medical clinic director, said the clinic has never had an event like this occur before because most birds cared for at the clinic are not fully flighted. Thistle has never had issues with flight but was deemed non-releasable because of an injury that left her with only a right eye.

“(Thistle) is a three-year-old bird who came to us in 2012 as a juvenile bird because of an eye injury that was preventing her from being able to hunt, and as a falcon they need both eyes in order to apprehend prey,” Whittington said.

Thistle wears leather bracelets around her ankles and is jessed when she goes out, she said.

“It looks like a modified shoestring that’s threaded through her bracelets around her ankles that allow her to keep her on our fist,” Whittington said. “She’s tethered.”

Thistle’s jesses came undone in her holder’s hand yesterday morning and she took flight. Whittington said they have received a number of calls with reported sightings centered around Race and Windsor streets in Urbana, but they have not been able to locate Thistle.

American kestrels are typically smaller falcons and Thistle is only about seven or eight inches in length, Whittington said. She described Thistle as having a “brown and white sort of modeled appearance” with some gray coloring as well. Shoelace-like jesses hanging from Thistle’s metal bracelets are a telltale sign of the bird, Whittington said.

She added that although Thistle is familiar with her surroundings, she has never seen them from the air so the clinic is unsure of whether she will be able to return on her own, but Whittington said she believes the bird won’t go too far.

“Kestrels aren’t migratory so I don’t think she’s going to go long distances,” she said. “I think she’ll stay in the fairly close vicinity.”

The clinic’s staff is asking anyone who spots the bird to call the Small Animal Clinic with a specific location and a description — such has attached jesses or a missing eye — because kestrels are common.

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