Have a Question about Peregrine Falcons?
2018 Falcon Cam Season
Week of June 8
Hi Folks. I just looked at our chick (June 6, 1:55 p.m.) and she was standing on top of the box! With all the signs she’s giving us, I’ll say again it could be anytime now she will leave the nest box forever. Several of you wrote in this morning saying the chick was gone. Maybe it is running the I-beams to the left and behind the box and then came back.
I’ve never seen the behaviors myself, but have read accounts of what Peregrine parents will do to coax their kids into taking their first flight. With their eyesight being so sharp, you know a Peregrine chick can spot one of its parents flying from literally a mile away. The chicks will also immediately notice if the parent they are looking at has prey in its feet. To make it even more obvious, the parents will fly close to the nest and even bank to whichever side that will make the prey in their feet even more obvious to the chick(s). With the chicks always being hungry, they can’t help but take that first jump to try to chase the parent with the meal.
Today our lone female chick is 44 days old. Her juvenile colored feathers are almost fully grown in. When the feathers are growing, each one has a blood supply going to it. When the feather is at full length, the blood supply stops. With Peregrine Falcons the first two inches or so of the fully grown, large wing and tail feathers is hollow. Partially hollow feathers are probably an adaptation for flight. The lighter the body, the easier it is to fly.
So much growth, whether it be feathers or the rest of the body, is the main reason young birds are always hungry. Once a bird has all its feathers it will never again have to worry, if you will, about growing in so many feathers all at once. Each feather on a Peregrine has a life expectancy of about two years. As tough as they are, feathers do have a shelf life. To keep a bird symmetrical as it flies, only the corresponding feather on each wing will molt, or be lost, and when those two replacement feathers are done growing in another two will molt, and so on. The bird can molt in two or more tail and body, or contour, feathers at once, since those feathers aren’t as important to flapping flight.
Now to your questions; someone asked about the life expectancy of Peregrine Falcons. Once they make it through their first year they can live to 15 or so years old. The first year of life is hard for any animal on the planet, with 60%-80% dying during this time. Once they gain a year’s experience in dealing with all nature has to throw at them, they have a better chance of living a longer life.
Another questions is whether birds remember a traumatic experience. With all the training I’ve done and seen done with birds, I know for sure that they remember a bad experience. At World Bird Sanctuary we keep all experiences positive when training, but if an individual has a negative experience, you can tell by behaviors afterword that it remembers. The person who wrote the question referenced the chick falling from the nest at an early age. While this bad experience might have some baring on this chick leaving the nest, ultimately the need to fly will prevail, and she will take flight. One other thing; birds don’t want to fly, as we humans might think. Yes, to us flight would be breathtaking and symbolize freedom. To a bird flight is a means of transportation to food, a mate, water and leaving a nesting area when cold weather comes.
Once the chick leaves the nest, I’ll write one final ASK JEFF for the 2018 Falcon Cam season. I’ll talk to you sometime soon!
Week of May 25
Hello all! I just looked at the chick a few minutes ago (May 23, 8:10 pm CST). She’s looking great. You can really see her first set of feathers coming in through the down. She was laying in the center of the box, but her head was up, probably looking for mom or dad that might be flying in with a before-dark snack.
Today (5/23) the chick is 30 days old. There’s a chance it will start to hop from the box and walk along the many I-beams that are around the nest box. To refresh memories of seasons past, we have seen many of the chicks leave the box when they are 30 plus days old to walk on the beams, but come racing back when they see mom come in with prey. With no other chicks to stimulate beam walking behavior, there’s just as much chance chick could stay in the box until it thinks about its first flight.
On average the chicks fledge, or take their first flight, in the mid 40 day-old range. The first flight almost always takes the chick to the ground. They are like human babies taking their first steps; clumsy is the word. There’s been many a Sioux Energy Center chicks that have been retrieved by workers and taken back close to the box. We will give the chicks that advantage, since being on the ground makes them vulnerable to many other predators. The chicks gain their flight skills quickly, learning how to allow their wings to provide them with lift, and just as importantly, be able to position their wings to take lift away when necessary. Back when Peregrine Falcons were still on the federal endangered species list and WBS hacked, or released to the wild chicks that were raised in captivity, I got to watch the chicks for hundreds of hours and saw first hand clumsy turn to lightning fast maneuverability, all within two weeks of fledging.
Last season each of the five chicks stayed in the nest well into the 40 day-old period, so we got to watch an extra amount of time. Only time will tell if this year’s single chick will hang around the box and give us the privilege of watching it continue to grow.
There were no questions over the week, but I appreciate the compliments many of you have given us. It was a total team effort to get the remaining chick away from its precarious perch, cared for - then back into the box.
Talk to you next week!
Hello everyone! I’ll give you a quick refresher from my last ASK JEFF.
When I went to band the chicks last Monday, May 14, both chicks were not in the nest box. One had fallen to its death and the other was on grating about eight feet below the nest box. The living chick was brought back to World Bird Sanctuary’s Wildlife Hospital to make sure it hadn’t suffered any broken bones or other injuries when it fell. On Tuesday, X-rays were negative, and for the next three days the chick was rehydrated and fed well. I was able to place the bands on each leg.
On May 18, Mike Zeloski, long time WBS staff member, and I took the chick back to Sioux Energy Center and placed it back in the box. Mom and dad were there still defending the nest, which was great to see. I climbed to the box and put the chick back in, all the while being pummeled on the helmet by mom.
The big event we needed to see was mom coming to the box and feeding the chick. If chicks are gone from the box too long, both parents could lose the drive to want to care for any chick. Within 15 minutes the female brought food into the box and fed the chick. We were ecstatic!
In the wild nature takes its toll - especially on the chicks. Within their first year of life, 60 percent to 80 percent of all chicks will die. Living in the wild is a hard life. In this case we were able to reverse the trend. Regardless of how many times the female raked her talons across my helmeted head, it was so rewarding to let the chick slip from my hands and hop to the back of the box, turn around and hiss at me. I wished her (yes, the chick is a female) luck, did the same with mom, and we all got out of there to let the parents go on raising the chick.
A special thanks goes out to all who helped with getting the chick back into its nest box. You all rock!
Week of May 18
On Monday, five of us WBS staffers went to the Sioux Energy Center, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to collect and band the two chicks in the nest box. I for one checked the camera Friday afternoon before leaving work and saw two chicks, as I expected, slumbering in the box in between meals brought in by mom. I didn’t check the box during the weekend.
As we headed up to begin banding, mom was right there to “greet” me, diving in close and striking my helmet twice before I could get within the relative safety of the I-beams leading up to and supporting the box. I found parts of several prey items at 24 feet below the box. I’ve found similar things over the years, so everything was as expected. It was when I looked up at the grating just below the box that things started to seem wrong. There on the grating, about 12 feet below and behind the box, was one of the chicks. At 21 days old, the chicks are still quite helpless and definitely cannot fly. So, why would one of the chicks be so far from the box?
Rather than asking anyone questions, I climbed the ladder to get to the chick, stepped onto the grating and took the chick into my hands. It was certainly alive, but not well. As I examined it, Dawn Griffard, WBS’s executive director, got to the top of the ladder, and I handed her the chick. The mom Peregrine continued to swoop in and hit our helmets as I hoisted the crate up that would house the chicks as we took them to the building where we would band them. Also hoisted up was the ladder that would help get me the last 10 feet to the box, along with some safety equipment. After a few more minutes, I hooked myself in and climbed to the box. I peered around its left side to find that the second chick was gone.
For the 45 seconds it took to look into the box mom Peregrine stuck my helmet five times, so I ducked back down to the lower lever to assess the facts. We found out that early last Saturday afternoon a strong, straight line wind hit the energy center. The wind was strong enough to suck both chicks from the box. Just in front of the nest box it drops 167 feet to the ground, so we all agreed it was a miracle that this chick was somehow blown to the grating below the nest and survived. Upon further observation we were able to spot the second chick. It was on a ledge 100 feet below us, and unfortunately it was dead.
Because of the compassion we have for these noble birds, one cannot help but feel great sorrow when things like this happen. Of all the birds I have the privilege of studying and working with in my life, Peregrine Falcons are my favorite. As much as I am grieving for the lost chick, my knowledge of nature lets me grieve only so long. As much as I love to watch the chicks grow and be able to see the incredible parents up close and personal, I keep a certain objectivity about these wild birds because I know nature can randomly select in favor of tragedy. Yes, tragedy has happened to our Peregrine family, but there’s nothing anyone could have done about such a random act of nature (a big wind in this instance) coming in and taking one of the chicks. Of the many thousands of Peregrine nests in the U.S., it is inevitable that many of them will experience the loss of chicks, or even total failure, because of nature. I get comfort in reminding everyone of the 30 chicks our two sets of parents have raised and fledged from this box.
About the surviving chick; the WBS team in attendance this morning was lucky to have within its ranks Bethany Spiegel, our rehabilitation coordinator. Her initial assessment of the bird showed only dehydration from lack of being fed, so we brought the chick with us to our rehabilitation hospital. We are currently performing x-rays on the bird to make sure there are no broken bones.
There are three scenarios for the chick’s future.
#1, there’s a chance the chick could be placed back in the box later this week. With only a few days from underneath mom Peregrine’s watchful eye, she would continue to care for the chick as if nothing happened.
#2, if the chick has to be separated from its parents more than a week because of a more extensive injury, we could not put it back in its box. Such a long separation means the parents would lose the drive to care for chicks. However, WBS would foster the chick to an area nest with similar aged chicks or send the chick to another area that has chicks of a similar age. We have a great network of fellow Midwest Peregrine banders, so finding a nest would pose little problem, and fostering has been very successful with many species of raptors (including Peregrines).
#3, if the chick has an injury that would make its wild survival impossible, WBS would gladly accept and train the bird for use in our education programs. Many of our education ambassadors have injuries that make them permanent captives, and with the right training and care, this Peregrine would help, especially children, learn about the species.
Our number one goal is to get the bird back into the wild, and we will do our best to achieve this. Rest assured I will keep you all informed of our miracle chick.
Week of May 11
Hello All! First, I want to say thank you very much for all your emails trying to help with viewing the bands on each of the parents. In the end, the person that controls the camera and I figured out that we have the same male as last year, and the same female as the last 3 years. The male was hacked, or released, as a young falcon at a power plant in north central Missouri in 2004. The female was banded as a chick at a cliff nest in 2006 at a state park in Minnesota. For reasons we will never figure out, the parents never presented their color banded legs to the camera until each started feeding the chicks. Then it became easy to get their ID’s.
This year we have only two chicks from the four eggs that were laid. There could be many reasons the other two eggs didn’t hatch, including small cracks that let bacteria into the eggs, eggs got cooled for too long a time period and died, the eggs didn’t get fertilized correctly when they were still in the female, etc. Also, our female is 12 years old now and the male 14. In the wild, Peregrine world each has reached the upper limits of their lives. Maybe internal organs aren’t working as efficiently as they once did.
The two chicks hatched on April 23, which means I will be banding them on May 14. They’ll be 21 days old on banding day. Once the chicks reach 17-18 days old their legs and feet are full sized. This means I can safely place the correct sized bands on their legs, of course after measuring their legs. Males are a third smaller than females. They get a size 6 band, and the females get a size 7A band.
Now to the great questions I received over the last week.
Several asked when the chicks fledge. On the average the males fledge at about 45 days old and the females at about 55 days old. If my math is correct, the chicks should be fledging in mid June. They are still too young to tell what sex each is, and until I actually holding them it’ll be just speculation on their sexes.
Another asked how the male gets the prey to the female so she can feed the babies. In case you don’t know, the female does the majority of feeding the babies, especially during the first 20-25 days of their lives. As mentioned earlier, mom is the larger of the two sexes, and one of the reasons we think she’s larger is to better defend the nest from other aerial or ground predators. So, dad catches, kills and plucks most of the prey during these early days. Then he’ll fly by the nest. Mom sees he has prey, then she’ll fly out and in mid air the male will transfer the prey to mom. Peregrines are one of the most maneuverable of all birds of prey, so it would be quite spectacular to be able to see the transfers happen. Maybe one day there will be Peregrine cameras that swivel and focus fast enough to follow the female as she receives the prey for her chicks.
Finally someone asked if the bright lights of the Portage de Sioux Energy Center are any kind of detriment to the Peregrines. My short answer would be no. If anything, the lights may allow the Peregrines to hunt further into the night. There are hundreds of bird species that migrate at night, so if these birds are passing through the lights they could become prey for our falcons. Many years ago I read a very interesting account of Peregrines living in the Chicago area preying on bats after dark. There was enough light given off by all the buildings in that huge city where the Peregrines could see bats well enough to catch them. We have two other energy centers in the greater St. Louis area that have nesting Peregrines, and I know there are many other power plants in the nation that have nesting Peregrines. With all this Peregrine action, it seems to me the lights don’t disturb them at all. Plants that produce energy for we humans are located near large bodies of water. Most of these plants have high buildings or stacks, which are ideal places for Peregrines to hunt from (before humans came, Peregrines nested and still do nest on cliffs above rivers and oceans). Especially the Mississippi River, with it mostly north to south flow, has many bird species that use it and its flood plain as a migration corridor. Peregrines feed almost exclusively on birds, so plants and even other tall buildings near water are ideal places for Peregrines to live.
Week of April 27
April 23, 2018
Hello All! At about 5 this morning our Falcon Cam saw the first chick as mom stood up. Since then, another chick has hatched. What you will see mostly, especially on this cool, rainy day, is mom sitting in the same position. Now she’s incubating the remaining two eggs and also brooding at least two chicks! You’ll also see empty egg shells, cracked more or less in half, around our mom.When the chicks are this small they cannot regulate their own body heat, much like their distant reptilian relatives. Mom must keep them warm, or brood them. Once the chicks are about 12 days old they have enough body and downy feathers to keep themselves warm.
Here is a photo of the first two.
For such seemingly helpless baby animals coming into this world, baby birds are nicely equipped to break out of their hard-shell protection. Nature has given them an egg “tooth,” which is a small spike just above the very end of their upper beak. With very little room to work, the chick starts to peck at the inner shell to open a small hole. This is the actual pip. After the first hole, the chick continues to make consecutive holes, all connected to one another, until the egg is weak enough to crack the rest of the way and let its inmate escape. The yolk sac provides the energy for the developing chick to make the peeps and of course break out of the egg. When the chick breaks out it still has about two days worth of “food” provided by the yolk. As the chicks get hungry they start to raise their heads, open their mouths and make even more noise, which are the signs for mom and dad to start tearing small prey into pieces to place in or very near the chicks' mouths. The beauty of our Falcon Cam comes into clear focus then because without it we wouldn’t get to see such sights.
Unfortunately, we still don't have good enough pictures of the parents' bands to get the full ID's, but it's not without all of you trying. Thank you so much for all of the tips you've give us. If it's not good light, the parents move so quickly as they switch incubation duties that we haven't gotten a great look at their color bands. However, we have obtained good enough pictures to get a partial ID on the male. The male was probably hatched and banded in 2007 at Black Dog Plant Eagan, which is a coal burning energy center in Dakota County, Minnesota. When we finally get the right picture, I'll confirm this and let you know. Keep up the good work!
Week of April 6
Hello all! Now we are solidly into incubation, and the corresponding ho-hum of nest cam watching. Mom incubating her eggs for hours on end isn’t very exciting, but of course she’s performing a very important job. Without her warmth the eggs would die. My hat’s always off to all the raptor mothers of the world (human mothers, too) for their seeming determination in bringing the next generation into the world. If you remember, last year mom had five eggs. Mom’s body is considerably larger than the male’s, and one of the theories of why is because she has to produce the eggs. Her larger body also allows for more easily covering the eggs during incubation.
I had only one question, but it was asked by several of you. How does one tell the male from the female? You can’t tell by overall plumage because the sexes are colored quite similarly. If you had the time to study their facial feather patterns, each is unique, but subtle. The best way to tell is to actually see the two together in the box. Then it becomes quite obvious how much smaller the male is than the female.
Since we still don’t know if we have the same male and female as last year, I’ll put a challenge out to all of you. If anyone sees the male and female switch incubation duties, please mark the exact time and date and send that to me. If we get the band letters/numbers/colors from your observation, I will acknowledge you on the next Ask Jeff. Good luck, and thanks for watching.
Week of March 26
HELLO EVERYONE!!! Welcome back to Falcon Cam 2018, our 7th year of bringing you Falcon Cam. I’m quite happy to report our female is incubating four eggs now. She actually surprised us and laid her first egg significantly earlier than last season. It surprised us so much that we didn't have the camera up and running until she had her full clutch of four eggs.
She and her partner have not yet given us a good enough look at their legs to know if they are the male and female from last year. In fact, we don’t even know if they have leg bands or not. As much as we banders want to get bands on all the Peregrines in the U.S., we know it would be impossible to do so. So, there are plenty of Peregrines in the world that don’t have bands on their legs. As a refresher from years past, the reason we place bands on their legs is to gain knowledge of the individual birds and the species. For instance, because of her band, we know the female from the last three years was banded in June 2006 as a chick at a cliff nest in Pallisades State Park, Minnesota. The male from the last two seasons was banded before being released to the wild in 2004 at a power plant in north central Missouri. He was released as a youngster through a process called hacking.
Now to your questions. Several asked when will the eggs hatch. Our female laid her first egg around March 14, but unless the weather is really cold, she doesn't consistently incubate until the full clutch is laid. If she started incubating when the first egg laid, the first two chicks would have such a head start in growth that they would outcompete the smaller, younger chicks for food and the youngest would probably die. With incubation starting after the full clutch, then all the eggs will hatch within a few hours of each other. With all the chicks about the same age, then nestling competition is equalized, even with the males being smaller than the females (yes, quite opposite of mammals). Based on incubation periods, we expect to see the eggs hatch around the last week in April.
Someone asked how Peregrines find the boxes we humans place for them. This is a good question that I don’t think I’ve ever been asked. Peregrines like to do their hunting from tall structures that give them a commanding view of especially open areas. Peregrines are the fastest creatures in our world, and able to dive after prey well in excess of 200 miles per hour. When a Peregrine perched on high sees a bird (they eat almost strictly other birds) that it thinks can’t make it to cover before the Peregrine can catch it, the falcon dives off its perch and tries to catch the bird. Since most power plants are located along large rivers or lakes and have tall stacks and other structures, Peregrines naturally like to hang out at them, as well as tall buildings within cities. Placing a Peregrine box in an area where Peregrines hang out increases odds that the box will be used. For instance, Ameren Missouri has Peregrines nesting in boxes at Labadie and Rush Island Energy Centers, with each of those being located on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, respectively. Before humans (and power plants and tall buildings) came on the scene, Peregrines hunted from cliffs. Peregrines still certainly nest within cliff crevices with level, gravely floors where they can make a depression, or scrape in the gravel so their eggs won’t roll around. In the boxes we provide Peregrines with pea gravel.
Finally, someone asked if nesting Peregrines in our area stay year-round. The short answer is yes they do. Our winters are mild enough that our nesters can take what cold weather we have with relative ease. However, Peregrines can be found nesting within the Arctic circle, so those Peregrines definitely migrate south for the winters. Peregrines are the migrating long-distance champions of the raptor world, with documentation (because of bands and satellite transmitters) of Peregrines nesting within the Arctic circle and wintering on Tiera del Fuego, which is the southern tip of South America!
Thanks for the questions. I’ll talk with you all next week!