Jose Percillio holds one of his birds of prey at the falcon park in Northeast Brazil. photos by Coen Wubbels.
Holding and Cuddling Birds of Prey in Northeast Brazil
Percíllio loves his birds. Within minutes of our meeting in Areia Branca, Northeast Brazil, I am drawn into his world in which his strong movements, intense gestures and warm facial expressions demonstrate his one and only passion: rescuing, loving, and caring for birds of prey.
It is easy to see that the birds are well taken care of – by the softness and cleanness of the feathers, the shiny eyes and heads held up high.
This morning, my partner Coen and I had driven up a rough road into Sergipe’s interior. We left civilization behind us and wound through vast sweeps of prairie-type grasslands that alternated with patches of forest.
On our left we spotted the aviaries we had been looking for, parked the car and clapped our hands to make our presence known.
Meet José Percíllio and Tito
A lean man with a goatee and mustache appeared from the veranda and shook my hand. “José Percíllio,” he said while stroking the head of a bird that sits on his shoulder, “and this is Tito,” introducing his 28-year-old gavião caracara.
There are dozens of aviaries and as we check them out, Percíllio tells his tales. Most of his birds were shot at and came with broken wings or part of their wings missing.
Other birds were captured and mistreated. If possible he trains the animals so they can return to the place where they were found, or close to it. If they are unable to survive in the wild due to their injuries, he keeps them at the park for breeding.
IBAMA (Brazil’s organization in charge of protected flora and fauna) and the Police Ambiental (Environmental Police) have brought other animals to the park as well, for no other reason than that there’s nowhere else to turn to.
Few people have such a passion for animals, as well as healing hands, as Percílio does. During our visit José is treating a baby deer and a tamandua (giant anteater).
We arrived unannounced, not knowing that reservations are mandatory. Had we done so we would have seen one of Percílio’s presentations on how he trains birds of prey to return to the wilderness. But being on our own has its advantages as well: we are handed numerous birds to hold.
Percíllio takes an adult spectacled owl out of the cage, whispers to it and sets it on my arm. The claws are not as sharp as I had thought they would be, and the bird is totally undisturbed by the move.
Throughout our walk I’m handed different owls and instructed to stroke and cuddle them. “They love that, they want attention,” Percíllio emphasizes. I had no idea that birds and men could bond so strongly. Birds lean towards Percíllio, simply asking for a kiss.
From one Falcon to a Sanctuary for Birds of Prey
Percíllio fell in love with birds when he was seven, when he was given an egg. He put it in a hen’s nest and, on his birthday, Tito was born – the falcon we met at our arrival.
Percíllio’s second oldest falcon is a quiriquiri falcon called Véia. These falcons are the second smallest falcon in Brazil. Percíllio was nine years old when someone shot the bird’s mother.
Percíllio took the dead bird home and found that it had an egg inside it. He cut the bird open, removed the egg and used three different pigeons to help to hatch it. A pigeon egg takes about fifteen days to hatch, for that reason he had to use more than one pigeon. The chic finally hatched in Percíllio’s hand 30 days later. Vèia is now 25 years old.
Percíllio’s hobby grew into a way of life and today his life is dedicated to birds of prey. Parque dos Falcões (Falcon Park) falls under supervision of IBAMA, which not only brings him birds and other animals, but also checks whether Percíllio operates according to the law.
I love the creativity with which José works to heal his birds. He claims that no bird in his care has ever died and that he has no need for a veterinarian. He will continue to search for a solution until he finds one. For example, Percilio attempted breeding Perna Longa falcons for eleven years before they finally reproduced. They now produce regularly.
On one occasion, a mico or saguim as they are called here – small monkey – got into the cage with a nest, ate one of the eggs and cracked the other. Percilio put a band aid over the crack and put the egg back in the nest. He didn’t expect it to hatch but after 35 days he was surprised to find that it had, and there was a young chic in the nest.
“So, who pays the bills?” I ask him after he has explained that he receives no government funds. He needs 120 kilo of food on a weekly basis to feed all animals.
“Enterprises hire me and my birds to help them out,” says Percíllio. “Many birds, among which herons, sparrows and pigeons cause trouble. They destroy crops, disrupt activities at factories, or cause aircraft accidents near airports.”
In fact, when I emailed Percíllio later on, I had to wait for an answer since he was on a mission to get rid of swallows that were invading an installation of Petrobras – Brazil’s oil company. Percíllio offers an environmental control of pests while he himself has found a way to pay his bills.
The sanctuary is a place to stay for hours, days even, but it’s clear that Percíllio has a busy schedule. After two hours of talking, and holding and cuddling birds of prey, it is time to go. Percíllio has work to do: feeding chicks, bathing birds, and going to the forest to train one of his recently healed birds to return to his natural environment. We wish Percílio the best of luck and set off to explore another of Sergipe’s wildlife sanctuaries: the sea turtle protection program of TAMARA along the coast of Pirambu.
To see more of Parque dos Falcões and Percíllio at work, check out this video made by Peter J. Ellice.
You can visit the sanctuary daily between 8-11am and 13-16pm, but note that reservations are mandatory. On the website of Parque dos Falcões you will find specifics such as a telephone number and contact page.
How to reach Parque dos Falcões
Parque dos Falcões lies near Areia Branca, along the road to National Park de Itabaiana (BR 235), which lies about 34 kms north of Aracaju, the state capital of Sergipe in northeast Brazil. The sanctuary is another 11 kms farther inland and signposted.
– At the tourist office of Emsetur downtown Aracaju, the staff speak some English and can tell which agencies organize day trips to the Falcon Park, but also about other day trips in the area, such as watching sea turtles in Pirambu, visiting the colonial town of São Cristóvão and the São Francisco Canyon.
Coen Wubbels, Overlanders of the Year with his partner Karin-Marijke Vis, has been overlanding in Asia and South America since 2003. His photos stories have been published in 4WD and travel magazines . He photographs the world around them. Follow him on Instagram.
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