On a sunny morning at the end of June a young peregrine falcon, nursed back to health by the Wildlife Rescue Centre of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) at Vila Real, was returned to the wild at Quinta dos Canais in the Douro. Canais is one of the Symington family’s remotest vineyards and is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and for both those reasons it was a natural choice for the falcon’s release. In particular, Canais has a remarkable variety of bird species, which include hoopoes, golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle-doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds of prey such as black kites and short-toed eagles.
Injured during its first migratory flight from the British Isles to southern Europe in December 2015, the young falcon was treated at the University’s Veterinary Hospital, and over the last 7 months it has made a full recovery. Originally marked by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in the UK in November 2015, the bird’s provenance was clear.
The injured bird was found along the northern coast of Portugal and was first taken to the Parque Biológico de Gaia, a wildlife park and rehabilitation centre not far from the Symington family’s Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bird had sustained multiple fractures in one of its wings as a result of illegal gunfire. Lacking the proper facilities to treat the bird, the wildlife park swiftly organized its transfer to the University Veterinary Hospital at Vila Real, one of the finest in the Iberian Peninsula.
The veterinary hospital works hand in hand with the university’s wildlife rescue centre which specialises in treating and nursing back to health birds of prey. Approximately 350 birds are treated each year and on average their recovery period lasts from 6 to 7 months. The rescue centre has a large octagonal flight tunnel, the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula. It allows all but the largest birds to make manoeuvres in mid-flight that would not be possible in more traditional tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds and in particular birds of prey. In this way they exercise and gradually regain their strength in readiness for a return to the wild.
The Symington family have supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Conditions for the release at Quinta dos Canais were perfect, the high temperatures (30ºC) generating the thermals that help birds gain altitude rapidly. Just before it took to the freedom of the skies the falcon was aptly named ‘Canais’. The falcon had not been fed intentionally on the morning of the release in order to sharpen its hunting instincts and thus increase its chances of survival. It was observed over the skies of Canais for several hours after the release and the vineyard caretaker, Sr. Orlando reports that he continues to spot ‘Canais’ flying over the property, a very encouraging sign that the bird’s return to the wild has been a complete success.