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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
Phoebe the Falcon--portrait
Phoebe under wraps during the early part of her stay
Phoebe and her temporary home
Phoebe tests her wings.
All photographs courtesy of Helena Jaeschke. Click on images for larger versions.
by Helena Jaeschke

Hierakonpolis 2006: A Wing and a Prayer

The first full day on site is always memorable as you clear the detritus from the surface and see the area one you are going to excavate. November 7, 2005, the first day at Locality 6, was made even more memorable by the unexpected arrival of the Horus of Nekhen at lunchtime. On the way to the excavations our foreman, Sidain, noticed something fluttering on the ground near the electricity pylons that march through the low desert to the cities of the north. He was surprised to discover an injured falcon, and managed to bundle it up with some string to keep it from injuring itself.

When we got back to Hoffman House, we gave the falcon emergency treatment of a crushed arnica tablet in some water through a clean pipette (conservation supplies are so useful). The left wing was badly broken, with bone protruding from the wound, and the middle toe of the right foot was almost severed. Shock seemed the biggest danger at this point, so the wounds were treated with calendula cream. The falcon was then wrapped with cotton bandage to keep the wing secure and placed in a comfortable cardboard box, where it sat, looking like a very irate mummy. Next day the bird was looking stronger and we managed to squirt a beaten egg down its beak. It's hard to say who was more astonished! We contacted local vets and the Edfu Clinic of the Brooke Animal Hospital but they all shied away from treating a bird.

Sidain again came up trumps and found a vet who occasionally treated turkeys. At the sight of the rather ferocious beak and talons his assistant left the building and refused to come back. However, after we taped the beak shut with micro-pore bandage and held the feet securely (with gloved hands), the vet was able to stitch the broken wing so that it would be able to set. After that our guest, whom we tentatively identified as a female Lanner falcon and promptly christened Phoebe, spent several weeks convalescing in an airy bedroom made of palm branches so that her feet could keep muscle tone by gripping the bars.

Not having a refrigerator (at that time), we live on a meatless diet at Hierakonpolis, so special arrangements had to be made for Phoebe to receive a ration of chicken or beef every day. She cleaned chicken portions with a speed and efficiency that was amazing, tossing the spotless bones through the bars when finished. We removed the bandage daily and anointed her wounds with a cream the vet had provided. Despite our best efforts, the claw was too badly damaged to knit together and was later removed. It was the middle claw, however, and the loss is unlikely to affect her ability to hunt or perch. We later moved her to a large room so that she could rebuild her flying muscles. You could see her strength and confidence increasing daily and, after a day or two of hopping around, she essayed a few short flights.

Near the end of the season we felt she was strong enough to try to return to the desert. The whole team paid her a farewell visit and then we gravely opened the door and made way for her to leave. She walked outside and tested the breeze. She looked at the sky and flew up onto a wall. Local crows spotted her quickly and came to mob her. We dissuaded them with a few stones heaved in their direction. Phoebe seemed unconcerned, she flew to a nearby mound and inspected her surroundings. Shortly after that she took off toward the desert. We felt privileged to have been able to assist such a wonderful bird but were sad to lose contact with such an amazing character. She has occasionally been seen since then, drifting over the house on her powerful wings and giving her high-pitched call. Sidain is sure she is waiting for more chicken. It is wonderful to think that the falcons still watch over the ancient site--Hierakonpolis, the City of the Hawk--that was dedicated in their honor.

Phoebe, ready to go
From Nekhen News 13 (2001).

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