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When Alberto Saldivar found a young bird flapping helplessly on the ground near his apartment in the 200 block of Circle Avenue, he thought he was doing the right thing by taking the creature inside, out of harm’s way. As it turns out, the bird is a federally protected species and Saldivar’s interaction with the animal may have done irreparable damage.

Dawn Keller is the founder and director of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, a state and federally licensed center that’s now caring for the American Kestrel, which is a type of falcon. According to Keller, the steady diet of prepared deli foods coupled with daily interaction with Saldivar may have left the kestrel incapable of surviving in the wild. A calcium deficiency brought on the early stages of bone disease, Keller said, and the bird is being evaluated for signs of imprinting, a process that effectively convinces the animal it is of a different species through prolonged exposure to that species.

If the roughly 5-week-old kestrel has been imprinted by living with Saldivar, the law requires the bird be euthanized or remain in captivity.

“The bird was unfortunately being fed an inappropriate diet,” Keller said. “It’s lucky to be alive, quite honestly.”

But Saldivar, 44, said any damage he may have caused was unintentional, and he meant only to save what appeared to be an injured animal.

“I was kind of worried because I was thinking it might be hurt,” Saldivar said.

For roughly a week, Saldivar kept the bird in his apartment feeding it leftovers and raw ground chuck. Jackie-O, as he named the young female, fluttered around his apartment, sat on his shoulders and ate from his hands. The bird appeared to be rather fond of a feathery headdress once worn by a Vegas showgirl that had been given to Salvidar by a friend.

“I had this sensational seafood salad from Jewel, she loved it,” Saldivar said. “Just scarfing it down.”

Though it’s not a migratory bird, the American Kestrel is protected under the federal Migratory Birds Treaty Reform Act. Without a permit to do so, possessing the bird is actually a misdemeanor and can be punished by up to $15,000 in fines and six months in jail, according to Mary Jane Lavin, special agent in charge of law enforcement for the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Saldivar has not been charged with violating the federal law and Lavin declined to comment on the circumstances of his case. Generally speaking though, Lavin said her office takes into consideration the mitigating and aggravating factors of every alleged violation.

“We have a whole host of resolutions available to us,” Lavin said.

At the wildlife rehabilitation center in Barrington, Keller said she has 17 American Kestrels and that it’s one of the more common birds of prey in the Chicago area. In attempting to return the animal to the wild, employees there will wear a mask anytime they have to interact with the bird, they’ll refrain from speaking to it and will surround the bird with older members of its species in the hope it will learn appropriate behavior.

Keller suggested that anyone who finds a distressed animal should put the creature in a box and place the box in a dark, quiet area. Do not feed the animal, Keller said. The state Department of Natural Resources or other agency should be contacted immediately.