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‘Buster’ the falcon found apparently unharmed after theft

Buster, a male American kestrel, was taken Friday,

Buster, a male American kestrel, was taken Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, from Volunteers for Wildlife animial sanctuary in Locust Valley and was returned Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016, sanctuary officials said. Credit: Volunteers for Wildlife

Buster, a federally protected falcon, was found apparently unharmed in a box at the door of his Locust Valley wildlife sanctuary Sunday night — hours after media reports went live about his “kidnap” from the facility, wildlife rehabilitators said.

The American kestrel had been taken Friday from the Volunteers for Wildlife, a hospital and educational center where the bird has lived since he was found screaming for food outside Central Park 14 years ago, sanctuary officials said.

Over the holiday weekend, sanctuary officials and volunteers spread the word of the loss on social media, and on Sunday, they checked out calls about possible sightings. They told reporters they would not press charges if Buster was returned unharmed to the sanctuary, located at Bailey Arboretum.

“It’s just devastating,” Jim Jones, a sanctuary board member had said in pleading for Buster’s return. “We saw his jess, the leather strap we use to hold him, was cut. We haven’t heard anything since.”

Then Sunday night, the falcon mysteriously reappeared and was found by a wildlife rehabilitator who went to the center to administer nighttime medications, said Lauren Schulz, a wildlife center supervisor and education coordinator.

“We found him left at the door in a box,” she said late Sunday night. “His jesses that he was wearing had been taken off him but were still in the box. He is hungry and thirsty but appears otherwise unharmed.”

Buster is an American kestrel who is imprinted on humans so he cannot hunt in the wild, and he may approach people in hopes of getting food, Jones had said. He is not aggressive, but sanctuary officials were worried about him because as a “very, very mature” bird, Buster needed to be fed his diet of dead mice stuffed with vitamins, he said.

With his striking black and orange markings, Buster has been on hundreds of school and other educational outings because he likes to hang out with people and goes easily into his carrier, Jones said.

Buster lives in a room by the volunteers’ entrance. At night, he’s in his cage, but during the day, he’s let out to roam on a 3-foot leg strap.

“He likes to sit by the window and watch people go by,” Jones said. “He’s a great ambassador for the species.”

Nassau police had taken a missing-bird report Friday.

Earlier Sunday, Jones said he and fellow sanctuary officials wondered whether whoever stole Buster may have been familiar with the facility’s operations. They believe what they describe as the “kidnapping” happened between 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

“If you’re talking about who might have grabbed him,” Jones said, “they would have to know he was on his jess lead and that’s why they came in with something prepared to cut it.”

The first time Buster was snatched, he was probably just a baby in a nest in Central Park, the group’s officials said.

Someone tried to raise him in an apartment, but as the young falcon grew, he got vocal, liked to fly, ate and defecated a lot, Jones said.

The bird was let out into busy Manhattan, a kestrel who thought he was a human because that’s whom he saw early in life, the wildlife volunteer recounted.

“When he was released, he was walking up and down Central Park West screaming for food from people,” Jones said. A volunteer from the center rescued him.

According to Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, the American kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon, hunts in open territory and is in decline in parts of the country.

The wildlife center has no video cameras, Jones said, but the theft of Buster is going to change that. He said, “We just never thought this would happen.”

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