AUSTIN (KXAN) — It isn’t every day Austinites get a glimpse of the world’s fastest bird in action. But such was the case when a 12-year-old peregrine falcon named Yukon Jack made his annual migration from Minnesota to Austin and made a few new friends along the way.
Yukon Jack was born in Minnesota in 2009 and has since spent more than a decade making annual trips down south during the winters. But during Austin’s most recent cold spell, a cold shock to Yukon Jack’s system landed him in an overnight rehabilitation stay at Austin Animal Center and Austin Wildlife Rescue.
Austin Animal Protection officers responded to a 3-1-1 call of an injured “hawk” during last week’s ice storm. Upon arrival, they discovered a falcon with a missing toe and tracking bands, later identified as Yukon Jack.
After an overnight stay at Austin Animal Center and some initial examinations, Yukon Jack was transferred to Austin Wildlife Rescue for a full physical and evaluation.
“We suspected he was probably cold stung, but we wanted to make sure there wasn’t an underlying issue going on,” said Jules Maron, operations manager at AWR. “Especially since this is a bird that needs to be strong and able to migrate long distances.”
After checking his vitals, Maron said Yukon Jack underwent a flight test in their flight cage to evaluate his endurance.
“We look for signs of ‘was he breathing hard, or did he have a symmetry with his wings when he was flying?'” she said. “And he really passed that with flying colors — no pun intended.”
AWR staff released him back into the wild earlier this week, but his storied history in Austin is one that has been captured by local wildlife enthusiasts for over a decade.
Bastrop resident and bird photographer Chris DuCharme has tracked the bird’s annual treks for more than 10 years, fascinated by his longevity in Central Texas.
“The peregrines have some special status, and it’s because they’re the world’s fastest creature,” he said. “Every creature has its own spirit and attitude, but the photographs [of them] just sort of stand out.”
DuCharme has had a lifelong fascination with birds, but it wasn’t until just over a decade ago that he got into wildlife photography. At his late wife’s urging, he continued the hobby and was photographing in Austin seven days a week, collecting more than two million photos of birds to date.
Following a cancer diagnosis three years ago, he said he put his wildlife photography on the backburner to focus on his treatments. After hearing of Yukon Jack’s adventures and recovery earlier this week, DuCharme said he’s ready to get back out into the wild — just like Yukon Jack is.
“It’s like tonic for my soul,” DuCharme said on tracking Yukon Jack’s adventures. “This has just been one really cool story in my book.”