By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The newest member of the Academy’s flying falcons weighs in at only four ounces but is already making a heavyweight impression.
“Buzz,” an American kestrel falcon, made his entrance to the mews only a week ago but easily captured the attention of Cadet 2nd Class Calder Goc. Buzz joins the 12 other falcons already housed in the falcon mews on base.
“It’s a good way for me to take care of someone,” said Cadet Goc, who is assigned to Cadet Squadron 31. Before she came to the Academy, she cared for her brothers while their mother attended graduate school.
The biology major from Clearwater, Fla., began working with the falcons nearly two years ago and works primarily with Cody, a prairie falcon, as well as Buzz.
The small falcon had a rough start in life. He was housed in a small birdcage until he was rescued and rehabilitated at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.
The little falcon is still recuperating from some damaged feathers but is expected to fully recover. Young birds like Buzz, who is about a year old, still have blood flow to their feathers, thus aiding healing. In older birds, blood flow to feathers ceases, leaving feathers hollow and subject to permanent injury if damaged.
“He’s pretty timid because he’s small,” Cadet Goc said. Nonetheless, and even with a tough beginning in life, she reports he is a well-behaved little fellow.
“He’s smart and takes care when he’s fed so that he gets the food instead of the fingers,” she said.
The young kestrel is growing content in his new digs, Cadet Goc said.
“When he puffs his feathers up, he’s happy, and he does it often,” she added.
When Buzz’s feathers heal, he may eventually be able to fly, albeit in a small, enclosed area. Cadet Goc said he is going to make a great contribution to the Academy’s falcon education program.
Buzz is hand-fed quail. In the wild, American kestrels feed on insects, mice, lizards and snakes. What the smallest but most numerous of the North American falcons lack in speed, they make up for in their ability to hover over small prey while flying.
Cadet Goc said other species of falcons in the wild can soar at speeds of up to 150 mph and primarily feed on other birds.
Buzz was named after Buzz Lightyear, one of the main characters in the Disney animated film “Toy Story,” as was the Academy’s previous kestrel, Woody.
“They’re neat little birds,” said adviser Lt. Col. Mark Seng, air officer commanding for CS 32.
He said the cadets have been looking forward to having him in the mews and that Buzz nearly rounds out the desire to have each of the five primary falcon species represented at the Academy. Primary American falcon species include gyrfalcon, merlin, prairie and peregrine falcons as well as the American kestrel.
“In an ideal world, we would have every type,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having a merlin.”
The cadet falconers spend about two hours daily checking each bird’s health and condition, feeding, training, cleaning the mews and conducting routine maintenance of equipment. About once a month, they also participate in demonstrations and educational programs.
Academy master falconer Sam Dollar said that when the Academy’s first cadets at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo., were tasked with selecting a mascot, the falcon became their instant choice. A Denver falconer at the time gave the new cadets a demonstration of a trained falcon downing a live pigeon in mid-air.
It remains a perfect symbol for aerial combat.