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By JOHN FRIEDLEIN
MAGNOLIA — Besides being hot and clumsy, arm casts and braces pose a less-obvious challenge: Stray raptors may want to make friends with you.
Diane Trombley, who is recovering from a torn ligament and stress fracture, learned this last week when Renegade, a peregrine falcon, apparently mistook her brace for a falconer’s gauntlet.
The mix-up led to the bird’s reunion with its Georgia owner, a man who not only starred in a movie, but also cares for Aflac’s ducks and trained the Miller malt liquor eagle and a hawk for Buick advertisements.
Trombley first met Renegade one evening last week after her husband told her to look at the top of their donkey barn. After seeing the bird, she called out from a second story office window for Wayne to tap on a wall to check if it was hurt and couldn’t fly. He did and Renegade stayed put.
Diane Trombley shouted again. The bird this time flew straight to her; only a closed screen separated them.
“All I could see was talons coming,” she said.
At the time she thought it was a hawk. A crazy one.
It swooped at her again when she ventured into the yard. And back inside, while talking on the phone to an ex-zookeeper neighbor, she glanced out at her patio — and there was Renegade, looking at her from atop an umbrella.
Trombley isn’t a complete stranger to the world of tame birds. About 25 years ago when she lived in Elizabethtown, a Louisville reporter interviewed her about a pet parrot, Ziggy, who could sing Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Her daughter, Sherry, had a more relevant experience — she used to watch falconers. She suggested her mom wrap something around her arm and see if the bird would land on it.
Also, by then Wayne Trombley had noticed leather bands on the bird’s legs, leading him to believe it was tame.
So Diane Trombley put on her husband’s Carhartt jacket, stuck out her arm and Renegade came to her.
With a clutter of barn cats looking on, perhaps envisioning a turkey dinner, the Trombleys put Renegade into a large dog crate.
The next morning Diane Trombley drove it to Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky. The Louisville organization put out the word about a found falcon and owner Steve Hoddy soon caught wind.
Hoddy had last seen his bird May 31. Wearing Renaissance garb for a festival just south of Atlanta, he watched Renegade disappear at about 1,200 feet.
“He decided he wanted to go for a little flight,” Hoddy said. It was a hot day and the bird, possibly looking for cooler air, may have gotten caught in a rising air current. Or Renegade just could have been living up to its name — “kind of like a teenager on a joyride,” he said.
About a week later, a falconer found him about 100 miles to the north. But Renegade escaped the next morning.
The falcon, which evidently dined on other birds during its journey, was hungry by the time it reached the Trombley’s Paso Fino horse farm in Magnolia.
“He probably had a hard time out there, especially with all the storms,” Hoddy said. But Renegade is now “doing great.”
Hoddy teaches educational programs with the falcons for a group called EarthQuest. He also appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and he was the protagonist in a 1975 movie, “Their Only Chance.” The “Their” in the title, of course, refers to animals.
Toddy’s live demonstrations are meant to teach about the fragility of the environment. Peregrine falcons were almost wiped out by the pesticide DDT. Wild birds of this species, however, are re-appearing in this area. Some nest along the Ohio River.
Actually, Hoddy — who wasted no time driving to Louisville to retrieve his falcon — began bird watching in that city. He had family there.
So returning for Renegade was like coming “full circle,” he said.
John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.