Rooftop rescue

It is rare these days that we have the ability to attempt a hands-on rescue of a wild bird in distress; time constraints and person availability (even more-so than cost) tends to be prohibitive. We do however offer circumstance-specific guidance and advice which enables the finder to take direct action themselves and help those in trouble. However earlier tonight we received a phone call for which the timing was perfect, and a tragic situation averted.

Having just finished work for the day, I was on my way home (looking forward to tea!) when the phone rang with the first of the evenings calls, and I listened to a very concerned lady from the RSPB who had a dilemma; She had tried all day without success she informed me, to get a response from either the RSPCA or numerous bird rescue sanctuaries, as there was a juvenile peregrine falcon trapped behind some glass atop a high-rise building in Manchester City Centre.

Now I had only discussed the night before with another local wildlife sanctuary, a very similar situation where a young peregrine fledgling had crashlanded on a balcony belonging to The Co-Operative Society in Manchester, and I wondered if this was the same bird - it certainly seemed a coincidence. Sure enough, it transpired that this was the same bird, though it had dropped down from where it had originally landed, onto an outdoor seating area which was surrounded by glass and proving impossible for the young bird to fly out of.

Knowing that the Birding Group that were monitoring the nest and it's occupants were only observing the bird from afar, I was concerned that (as with any injured bird), there is a very small window of opportunity to mend a broken wing if this should be the case (the Peregrine had been on the balcony for a number of days and seemed unable to get off again), and though the parent birds had dropped in at some point with a pigeon carcass for it to eat - if for any reason it wasn't feeding, the situation could become dire quite quickly - especially with the recent hot weather.

Thus, after a quick tea I was Manchester-bound, armed with a secure carrier and a couple of thick towels, collecting my daughter Erica on the way. Forty minutes later we met Stephen, the manager on duty tonight, and he (thankfully) took us up in the lift to the floor where the bird was trapped. The staff had been locked out of this seating area in order to protect the bird and hopefully encourage it to leave with its parents - but time was going on, and nothing seemed to be happening. Stephen was very concerned that if a storm hit as was forecast this week, the bird may perish due to lack of protection from the weather.

The balcony was far larger than I had expected, and probably some 200-300m+ in length, containing many seating areas - obviously a popular area for the staff to sit out. However, whilst the 4-5m high glass around the edge of the building allowed a wonderful landscape view of the city, I could see how it was preventing this youngster from leaving the area, as the bird was simply bouncing off the glass.

I rarely wear gloves to catch/handle birds of prey; if done properly you can safely handle them securely without losing fingers, and I find you can quickly build up that bond of trust with a bird, if you are able to hold it securely and safely without risking either crushing it or letting it loose again through poor grip with thick leather gloves. My 40 years of experience clearly stood me in good stead, as I was able to pick the bird up quickly without fuss and give it a good check over;

It was in good health, plenty of 'meat' on it, and just a few dislodged feathers from hitting the glass but nothing that should prevent it from flying free again. I had already explained to Stephen that I would only remove the bird if it was injured or was in imminent danger, as its parents were atop the older CIS building opposite and clearly had been keeping an eye on it from afar. However, I could see that in this case, it was likely to either injure itself further if left on this balcony, or may simply give up if it felt that 'escape' was impossible. Hence, Stephen kindly granted us access to another balcony even higher up the building where there were no high glass sides for the bird to crash into.

Again, this higher balcony was a very long area around the outside of the building, but this one with much lower sides, and easier for the bird to take to the skies again.

Removing 'him' from the carrier, (which he had not been at all impressed with being placed in), he glared at me for quite some time. However, with some soothing he soon settled down and took more of an interest in his surroundings than of me. Unlike the last peregrine fledgling I released in the city centre from Manchester Town Hall clock balcony, there was no perimeter wall for him to fly from, so gently I lifted him onto my arm and waited...(and waited...) until he felt the time was right to take to the skies again.

He flew almost the length of the balcony before veering off to the right and off over the city centre - startling a passing gull who clearly hadn't expected this to appear! A couple of circuits of some of the city centre cranes, and he flew back towards us, passing very close by indeed (a fly-past??) before off over the city again. It was wonderful to see such a majestic bird back in the skies once more. He finally settled on an adjacent building not far from the nest he came from, and where another Peregrine had been watching his antics from afar (mum or dad perhaps?). Let us hope this time he manages to stay out of trouble. [NB 'he' could be a 'she' - but 'it' wasn't for letting me know this evening, and I wanted as little disruptive handling as possible.]

Our grateful thanks to Stephen and the Co-Operative for his assistance, to the RSPB for giving us the opportunity to assist, and to Erica for her company. A true evening of 'Co-operation!'

(NB the photo used for this article is from a previous Rochdale Town Hall Peregrine fledgling I rescued a couple of years ago, and helped nurse back to health; I judged it not safe to try and photograph this Manchester bird tonight as I did not want it spooked and risk an unsuccessful flight back to the wild.)



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