Rescued American kestrel bird turns to painting after losing ability to fly

Rescued American kestrel bird turns to painting after losing ability to fly

Camille Fine

Have you ever wanted to make art in the presence of a bird of prey?

Thanks to an army of dedicated people who have made it their job to protect threatened and injured birds, dozens of rescued raptors live as bird ambassadors in the village of Quechee, about 90 miles south of Burlington, Vermont.

Last month, an American kestrel called Ferrisburgh — name after the Vermont town where he was found — launched a new career as a model and artist leading a class for several people who were interested in learning about birds. 

Ferrisburgh led his first painting class for humans of all ages alongside Mal Muratori and Lexie Smith, Environmental Educators at Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS). The class began with another American kestrel named Westford, who soared above a small sea of excited faces, effortlessly gliding back and forth from each instructors’ gloves, as they shared interesting facts about falcons.

After a few minutes, Ferrisburgh’s loud calls could be heard from behind a wall and filled the classroom with excitement shortly before he was brought out for the main event: watching a bird of prey paint on canvases. 

During the hour-long class, instructors explained Ferrisburgh’s life story and why he became involved in all of this. Why should a bird do something that mimics learned human behavior rather than its own? The answer to that is actually quite simple. 

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Birds at VINS are encouraged to exercise and engage in mentally stimulating activities everyday in order to maintain health and not get bored of the everyday humdrum of life. Activities include flying or jumping for exercise and playing with toys or games for enrichment. Ferrisburgh had to retire from being a flight ambassador this summer due to a broken bone, which is when Smith  brought up the idea of making art with him. 

After seeing a friend do painting with birds at the American Eagle Foundation in Tennessee, Smith wondered if the newly-retired Ferrisburgh would enjoy it too. According to Muratori and Smith, VINS believes that “choice-based” training is one of the best ways to work with birds — especially birds like Ferrisburgh that were imprinted by humans as a baby.

According to the instructors, Ferrisburgh was captured by humans as a baby, and as a result of captivity, he never learned to hunt or act like a bird because he thinks he’s a human. It is also likely that Ferrisburgh’s bone broke because of disease caused by a lack of quality diet, which would normally consist of insects, mice or small birds.

By giving them the opportunity to make a choice rather than something more similar to learned helplessness, which is a more traditional training method with birds of prey, birds at VINS were observed to be more social and confident when flying on a glove. 

Although Ferrisburgh sadly can no longer fly, he can get exercise from chasing mealworms around and making beautiful art at the same time. 

Who else is there to see at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science? Bald eagles, bluejays, hawks

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