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Search called off for bird of prey

Daily Staff Report

Liberty the peregrine falcon has not been seen since Sunday’s World Cup slalom raceBy Ian CroppDaily Staff WriterBEAVER CREEK – Liberty may be gone forever.The peregrine falcon that flew away during Sunday’s World Cup slalom race is still missing, and likely not living, according to her handlers.”The chances of her (living) are pretty bad,” said Dan Samson, a sophomore at Air Force Academy. “Even though her species is native to the area, our birds aren’t trained to hunt, and they can’t find food.”Samson, along with several other handlers from Air Force, and members of the Beaver Creek ski patrol searched for Liberty after Sunday’s race and again for most of Monday.”We got to the mountain at 7 a.m. Monday, went up with our telemetry equipment and narrowed her location down to a clump of trees,” Samson said. “We got snowshoes and walked around the clump of trees, but we didn’t find her.”At around 4 p.m., the handlers, who had already missed a day of classes, called off the search.Even though the handlers received a response from the bird’s signaling device with their telemetry equipment, Samson was doubtful that Liberty survived the frigid conditions of Sunday night.”If a bird like Liberty had been raised in the (outdoor) environment, it would have been different, but we take such good care of our birds,” Samson said, explaining Liberty’s inability to survive in the wild.John Dakin, chief of press for the Birds of Prey, had hopes that Liberty would reappear before the search ended.”I thought that we didn’t lose the downhill race, so we wouldn’t lose the bird,” Dakin said. “They had the bird fairly well positioned, but she wasn’t responding to signals.”Departure flightOn Sunday, Liberty was flying above the audience in between slalom runs, when she caught a thermal pocket and ascended 2000 feet without even flapping her wings, Samson said. “She could have tucked her wings in and come back down at the lure,” Samson said. “When she catches the lure, we give her food, but she wasn’t hungry enough.”As to what led Liberty to fly away in the first place, Samson offered his opinion.”I think she saw open space up there and say, ‘Hey, I’m having a good time,’ and didn’t realize (she) wouldn’t come back,” Samson said.Liberty, one of 14 birds in the Air Force’s falconry group, was described as one of the groups’ best flyers.The falconry group is looking for a replacement for the four-year-old Liberty.”We have two flyers left, and we’ll still train them,” Samson said. “Either we’ll buy or catch another bird from the wild to replace her.”Staff Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or icropp@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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