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Local falcon, her handler and her vet ready to attempt a groundbreaking eye surgery

  • Banner cries out as she is held down for examination and to have blood drawn as a prelude to eye surgery in September.
  • The falcon in the waiting room at the vet today.<br/><br/>{(GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff)}
  • Banner stands on the arm of Nancy Cowan as Dr. George Messenger looks at the falcon's X-rays after her visit before surgery in September.
  • Vet George Messenger looks over Banner after drawing blood Wednesday as the falcon gets ready for surgery in September.

A falconer never wants a bad experience with their bird – no anxiety, no fear, nothing that could disrupt the crucial relationship between human and bird.

But a veterinarian who needs to take X-rays and blood tests cares more about getting that critical data from the bird quickly and safely.

So while George Messenger wrangled Nancy Cowan’s falcon, Banner, in the X-ray room and on the exam table, Cowan twisted Banner’s lead around in her fingers, and whispered her worries under her breath.

Banner was at Messenger’s Fisherville Animal Hospital and Bird Clinic in Penacook yesterday for the final round of tests before she’s given new lenses for her eyes, a first-of-its-kind surgery scheduled for Sept. 12. Messenger will attend and administer the anesthesia, while Massachusetts-based veterinarian Ruth Marrion will perform the surgery.

Banner, a 3-year-old Lanner falcon from the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering, has a cataract in each of her eyes. Sight is a falcon’s primary sense, and without it, Banner is almost paralyzed, Cowan said.

The surgery will be the first attempted implantation of artificial lenses in a falcon.

“I’m not nervous,” Cowan said. “It’s beyond being nervous. It’s so awesome what they’re doing. I will be nervous taking her home, waiting to see how she does when she’s back, to see what she can do.”

Cowan first noticed Banner was having trouble seeing two years ago, when she had trouble returning to Cowan’s outstretched glove. The cataracts developed one at a time over the next 18 months.

The surgery was originally scheduled for late February but has been delayed while an ophthalmology supply company makes the unique lenses. In the meantime, Marrion has been practicing the surgery on chicken heads to be sure she can remove the cataracts quickly and place the new lenses accurately.

Banner spent the winter living in Cowan’s Deering home, instead of in her mew at the falconry school, because she couldn’t see well enough to find her perch, which would have sheltered her from the cold wind.

She’s been outside all summer, though, and loving it, Cowan said.

There, she can hear the other birds, the wind and the wildlife. And hopefully, before this fall comes, she’ll be able to see them, too.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)


Seeing is everything: Falcon eye surgery

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cataract surgery for humans is fairly routine and in the world of veterinary ophthalmology, the same surgery is often performed on dogs. Birds? Not so much. Dr. Ruth Marrion, a Massachusetts-based veterinarian, will perform the surgery Sept. 12 on Banner, a young Lanner falcon from the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Marrion has performed surgery on birds before, but for …

Legacy Comments5

There's a Peregrine Falcon living near Horseshoe Pond. Have seen it dive for fish several times, all but one attempt being successful. Either way, it's quite a sight to see. The bird climbs about 100 feet above the water, tucks its wings back, then goes into a steep head-first dive that culminates in a violent collision with the water (and, hopefully, with a fish). It's a very powerful thing to witness, and can make one feel like Marlon Perkins; "The Falcon uses its sharp talons to catch fish. It might be a sharp move to get your talons insured by Mutual of Omaha...".

Nice story there "Marlon"...Only its not a falcon..its an osprey. Used to have an office that looked out on Horseshoe pond. Saw it many times.

Well, "Jim"...with all due respect to your days of yore, the bird I'm talking about that currently hunts/fishes at this location, is a Peregrine Falcon. I initially thought it was an Osprey (believe there is one living there, also), until it flew directly over my head one day. Got a real good look at it thru the binocs on that occasion. Plus, a friend of mine has taken some excellent photos of the falcon. Both the Osprey and the Peregrine are beautiful birds of prey, however. None of this should tempt you to cash in your Mutual of Omaha whole life policy, however. (c; of the falcon diving head first in the water...or it didnt happen

That's really amazing. Best wishes to Banner from a local duck.

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