Rare square-tailed kite rescue mission

By Joanna Egan 6 June 2013
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The mission to return a fallen square-tailed kite chick to its nest resulted in stunning photography.

GOING OUT ON A limb to save a life is something ornithologist and documentary filmmaker Simon Cherriman is more than happy to do.

The AG Society sponsored researcher regularly hoists himself into the canopy to observe Australia’s birds of prey. So when bushwalkers discovered a 6-week-old square-tailed kite chick on a trail in one of Perth’s regional parks in December last year, Simon sprang to action.

“Not many things are more exciting to me than climbing a tree to rescue one of our most unique and beautiful birds of prey,” says Simon.

Rare raptor: square-tailed kite

Along with raptor rehabilitator Marra Apgar, Simon scaled red gums and wandoo (white gums) in Perth’s foothills in search of the young square-tailed kite’s nest. “This rescue was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” he says.

With a wingspan of up to 145cm, the square-tailed kite (Lophoictinia isura) is one of 24 raptor species in Australia. The majestic, long-winged bird is found in coastal areas and along inland wooded watercourses across the country, but its total population size is relatively small.

“The chick was well developed but incapable of flying, so must have accidentally parachuted off its nest,” says Simon. It is common for raptor chicks to fall out of their nests, either as a result of windy conditions or siblicide (siblings attacking or killing each other).

“Juvenile raptors have a high natural mortality rate, usually in the post-fledging period when they leave home and learn to fend for themselves, so helping them at least reach the fledging stage is important,” says Simon. “This is especially applicable to the square-tailed kite which is quite a rare bird.”

Simon says returning a baby bird of any species to its mother will generally give the orphaned chick the best chance of survival.