Did you hear the one about the falcon and the drone? Technology helps rehabilitate winged bird


Matthew Lamb with a peregrine falcon.
Matthew Lamb with a peregrine falcon.

A WANNEROO resident has helped give a peregrine falcon a second chance at life through rehabilitation using drone technology.

Matthew Lamb volunteers with the Raptors Rehabilitation Association of WA, and this year took in a young female falcon called Sahara who had badly injured her leg in the Wheatbelt.

“Sahara would have been a statistic to the surprisingly high proportion of young falcons that do not make it past their first year of life,” he said.

“There are many hazards facing a young falcon from fences or powerlines to poisons and cars, to predators like eagles.

“However, the vast majority die of hunger either unable to hunt through injury or they are simply not able to catch enough food as hunting is a skill not all falcons can master fast enough.

“Experience is what makes older birds more skilled and more likely to survive.”

Mr Lamb said leg injuries were common for falcons given the speeds they could reach, and, in Sahara’s case, her inexperience.

“Peregrine falcons are recognised as the fastest animal in the world recorded at over 300km/h in a stoop,” he said.

“They have to time their strike at the exact moment in exactly the right position to catch their prey.

“Their prey is often the same size and sometimes bigger than themselves such as ducks; any mistake or misjudgement can mean serious injury or even death to the falcon.”

Mr Lamb said Sahara was lucky a farmer interested in wildlife and conservation found her and took her to Perth, where the WA Conservation of Raptors gave her medical treatment that helped her recover.

“To be able to release these birds they have to have fully recovered from any injury, they need to be in perfect feather condition and they need to be fit,” he said.

“In order to rebuild Sahara’s fitness she was handed over to the Raptor Rehabilitation Association of WA.”

An experienced falconer, Mr Lamb trained and flew Sahara, using similar techniques and equipment implemented for hunting with birds overseas.

“Instead of hunting the focus is more on free flying and exercising,” he said.

“Sahara was trained to a lure; a leather pad to which her food is attached.

“This lure is hung by a release cord, from a remote controlled drone, the falcon is taught to fly up to the drone and to grab hold of the lure, the release cord will detach from the drone and open a small parachute.

“The falcon clutching the lure, prevented from flying off by the drag from the parachute, drops almost directly to the ground where she is rewarded with her food.”

Mr Lamb said drone technology helped rehabilitate the birds without them associating people with food.

“The energy required and the distances the falcons must fly to enable them to get to the height that the drones can is incomparable to anything else in terms of fitness training for falcons,” he said.

“The drones are a fantastic post release tool as well, because when in position high in the sky the drones are very visible to a falcon, and can be used to offer her supplement feed during the first few weeks of reintroduction back to the wild.

“All birds trained and flown by the Raptor Rehabilitation Association of WA are also fitted with a radio tracking transmitters so they are not lost before they are ready to go back to the wild.

“They can then be tracked after release and their progress monitored to ensure they have the best chance of survival.”

After several months of rehabilitation, Sahara’s transmitter was removed and she was released into the wild on June 25.

“As sad as it was to say good bye to a friend whom I have built such a close trust and relationship with over the time we have had together, it has been fantastic to watch her progress,” Mr Lamb said.

“I am fully confident she is capable of taking her life back on.”