My dad was cutting up the trunk and branches of a tree that had fallen and found a nest with four fledgling kestrels, all still alive. Yet unable to fly and likely abandoned, they would never live on their own. My dad did some reading and discovered the easiest food we could give them were bits of raw liver from chickens, which we raised and slaughtered over the summers.
We kept the birds in the former rabbit hutch and every day we would crawl in there with those little birds and hand-feed them slivers of livers that they happily gobbled it down. They quickly outgrew the hutch as their flight feathers came in. The chickens had all been slaughtered, so we moved them to the brooder house. We rigged up branches and perches and then we would startle them so they’d practice flying. I know there’s a picture of me as an awkward ‘tween with really badly permed hair stooping over in the brooder house with one of the kestrels perched on my back. I’m wearing a short-sleeved, red sweater. If I find it, I’ll make sure to share it for the laughs.
Soon they seemed to be ready to be released so we opened the door and shooed them out. They flew out and then immediately landed on the ground. The barn cats circled. We’d chase the cats away and try to get the kestrels to land higher, whether on the barn’s roof, electric lines or nearby trees. Eventually we knew it was survival of the fittest. We couldn’t keep the cats away from them forever.
In the days and weeks that followed, it was impossible to know if the kestrels we saw flying around were the ones we raised. But even now, 30 years later, I like to believe that some of their descendants still live on the farm I was raised.