Have a Question About Peregrine Falcons? Ask Jeff!
Every May and June Jeff Meshach, Director of Administration and External Programs, bands the Peregrine babies in at least 5 of the 7 known nests in the St. Louis area. Jeff considers his banding efforts to be one of the greatest privileges in the world. “Getting to put my hands on the fastest animal in the world, even for just a few minutes, is an unforgettable experience.”
HELLO EVERYONE!!! Welcome back to Falcon Cam 2018, which is our 7th year in a row of bringing you Falcon Cam. I’m quite happy to report our female is incubating 4 eggs now. She actually surprised us and laid her first egg 14 March, which is about 8 days earlier than last season. It surprised us so much that we couldn’t get the camera up and running until she had her full clutch of 4 eggs.
She and her boyfriend have not yet given us good enough looks at their legs to know if they are the male and female from last year, or are new. In fact, we don’t even know if they are banded 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 our country and 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 individuals and the species. For instance, because of her band the female from the last 3 years was banded in June 2006 as a chick at a cliff nest in Pallisades State Park, Minnesota. The male from the last 2 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 the eggs will hatch. Our female laid her first egg on 14 March, but unless the weather is really cold, she won’t consistently incubate until the full clutch is laid. If she started incubating with the first egg laid, the first 2 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).
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 had. 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, with dives 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 you know that 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. And Peregrines still certainly nest within cliff crevaces (sp?) with level, gravely floors where they can make a depression, or scrape, in the gravel so their eggs wouldn’t roll around. In the boxes we provide Peregrines with pea gravel.
Finally, someone asked if nesting Peregrines in our area stay year-round. 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 wintering on Tiera del Fuego, which is the southern tip of South America!
I’ll talk with you all next week!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello all! Now we are solidly into incubation, and the corresponding ho-hum 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.
Last season we were able to capture quite the funny video (hope it still can be viewed, and if so please direct people where to go). If you remember, last year mom had 5 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 egg(s). Her larger body also allows for more easily covering the eggs during incubation. However, mom now and again must take a poddy and food break, so when she gets up the male is right there to take over incubation for the hour or so mom is on break.
So, the video…last season the male flew to the box and mom got up and left. For the nest 3-4 minutes the male clumsily tried to position himself to cover all 5 eggs. The footage was hilarious! He finally got his body over the eggs, but you could still see the outer most eggs underneath him. If I could put some human thought into the scenario, I could just hear mom, as she flies back to resume incubation, say to the male, “You just remember the appreciation you need to show me once the nesting cycle is over,” and the male yelling as he flies from the box, “I know, I KNOW!”
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 2 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.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. As the minutes, hours and days slide by, our Peregrine mom (and sometimes dad) continues the incubation the eggs that will bring the next generation of Peregrines into the world. As we approach hatching day, which should be within the next week, the chicks within the eggs will start to peep. At many other nests mom has been documented making noises, seemingly out of the blue, and it’s speculated that when she does this she’s “talking” back to the chicks as they get ready to pip through the shell.
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 2 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 all are the sign for mom and dad to start tearing small prey item pieces to place in or very near the chick’s mouths. The beauty of our Peregrine Cam comes into very clear focus then, because without it we wouldn’t get to see such sights.
Well, we still don’t have good enough pictures of the parent’s bands to get full ID’s, but it’s not without all of you trying. Thank you so much for all the tips you’ve given us to try to ID the parents! If it’s not good light, the parents move so quickly as they switch incubation duties that we haven’t gotten great looks 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 at Black Dog Plant Eagan, which is a coal burning energy center in Dakota County Minnesota, in 2007. When we finally get the right picture, I’ll confirm this and let you all know. Keep up the good work!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello All! This morning at about 5 our Peregrine Cam saw the first chick as mom stood up. Since 5 there has been another chick that has hatched. What you will see mostly, especially on this cool, rainy day, is mom sitting in the same position, but now she’s incubating the remaining 2 eggs and also brooding at least 2 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.
I’ll still write another ASK JEFF toward the end of this week so your questions can be answered, but wanted to get this short, but important one out. Keep a close eye on the box today and hopefully you’ll catch a quick glimpse our newest additions!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
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 2 chicks from the 4 eggs that were laid. There could be many reasons the other 2 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 2 chicks hatched on 23 April, which means I will be banding them on 14 May. 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 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 have my hands on 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 2 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 2 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 the Peregrines at all. Plants that produce energy for we humans are located near large bodies of water. Water is needed for many reactions and cooling processes, hence their locations. Most of these plants have high buildings or stacks, which are ideal places for Peregrines to hunt from (before humans 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.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello everyone! Wow, do our chicks grow fast. Today is 11 May, making the kids 18 days old. When they were hatched they were each about an ounce and a half. At 18 days of age males will be about 12 ounces and females about 16 ounces, or one pound. That’s an 1,100% increase in weight for females and an 800% increase for males. Their high protein diet of other birds helps them grow up quick. Raptor chicks are altricial, which means they are hatched helpless and need a lot of parental care to become juveniles that may successfully leave the nest and start their own lives. This is compared to precocial, like wild turkey chicks, that can walk and even fly short flights just hours after hatching. All chicks grow quickly, since youngsters in nature are more vulnerable to predators. Peregrine chicks getting big and leaving the nest quickly means less predators can catch and eat them.
There were few questions over the last week, and some of the ones I had I’d already answered in the last Ask Jeff. However, I am happy to write again about the 2 unhatched eggs. We’ll probably never know why they didn’t hatch. Some reasons could be, a) small cracks in the eggs that allowed bacteria to enter, b) mom and dad are quite old for wild Peregrines (12 and 14 years old respectively) meaning their internal organs might not be working as well as when they were younger, or c) the eggs could have gotten cooled for too long a time span and died from this. With the hard freezes and cold days we had in mid April, I would vote for c. If mom had to leave the eggs to help the male chase away a potential territory rival or aerial predator, the eggs could have gotten chilled for too long.
I just looked on the web cam and couldn’t see the 2 unhatched eggs. As the chicks got bigger and moved around the nest they could have broken the eggs, or pressure could have built up because of extreme bacterial action and the eggs popped. If the eggs are there when I collect the chicks for banding, I’ll remove them from the nest.
Speaking of banding, I’ll go to the nest on Monday morning, 14 May and remove the chicks for about an hour for banding and drawing a small amount of their blood for analysis. The blood will be tested for toxins that could have entered the eggs as they were developing in the mother. Peregrines became endangered because of the pesticide DDT, which entered the parents because the DDT was within their prey. If someone had been looking at Peregrine chick blood in the 1950’s, maybe we could have stopped using DDT soon enough to keep Peregrines from becoming endangered (they became endangered in 1972 and were taken off the federal endangered list in 1998). This is the thinking behind current blood analysis. If we find a trend in a toxin showing up in their blood, we can hopefully do something about it to keep the species from again becoming endangered.
When banding I’ll also find out what sex each chick is. I’ll let you all know early next week. Until then, keep watching!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hi Folks. There were 5 of us WBS staffers that left this morning for the Portage de Sioux Energy Center, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to collect and band the 2 chicks in the nest box. I for one checked the camera Friday afternoon before leaving work and saw 2 chicks, as I expected, slumbering in the box in between meals brought in by mom. I didn’t check the box during the weekend.
This morning I was first to leave the safety of the structure that supports the large stack at the energy center. Again, as expected, mom was right there to “greet” me, diving in close and striking my helmet 2 times 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 many of these things over the years, so one more time, all completely 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 completely 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 5 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 had 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 so 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 can console in reminding everyone of the 30 chicks our 2 set 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. The bird will be x-rayed the morning of 15 May to make sure there are no broken bones.
There are 3 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 1 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.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello everyone! I’ll give you a quick refresher from my ASK JEFF, written Monday, May 14th.
When I went to band the chicks last Monday, 14 May, both chicks were not in the nest box. One had fallen to its death and the other was on grating about 8 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 3 days the chick was rehydrated and fed well. Yesterday afternoon I placed the bands on each leg.
This morning, 18 May, Mike Zeloski, long time WBS staff member and I took the chick back to Portage de 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 Peregrine Falcon world nature takes its tole on especially the chicks. Within their first year of life, 60% to 80% 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!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello all! I just looked at the chick a few minutes ago; that would be 23 May at 8:10 pm central time. 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 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 Portage de Sioux Energy Center chick that’s been retrieved by the many 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 2 weeks of fledging.
Last season each of the 5 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!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello All! Today our chick is 39 days old. I just finished watching her (1 June at about 10:15 am), and she was jumping quickly from nest box floor to front edge and then back into box again. After this seemingly strenuous activity, she plopped down on the box floor, and she seemed to be falling asleep. On these hot days and especially after getting a meal (which she probably did earlier in the morning), the chicks seem to want to nap away the heat of the day. Back in 1985 when I first started with WBS, I had the privilege of monitoring our first ever hacked Peregrine Falcons, which we released from a hack box on the then Pet Incorporated building in downtown St. Louis (this building is now the Pointe 400 building and has been converted to apartments….and by the way, has had a pair of Peregrines nesting on it for the last 3 years!). As a quick refresher, hacking is releasing captive raised birds of prey to the wild. Hacking had a major roll in bringing the Peregrine back from the brink of extinction. I can remember watching the 2 young Peregrines we released, after they had fledged from the hack box, laying down on a shady ledge and falling asleep during the hottest part of the day. Yes, we interns monitoring the young falcons found it hard to not do the same thing! As another refresher, the current adult male of Ameren’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center was hacked from a box in 2004 at a power plant in New Madrid, Missouri.
The only question I had over the week was asking about a strange behavior the female was exhibiting as she stood in the nest box along side the chick. The behavior was described as throwing her head back several times with her mouth opened. While Peregrines perform behaviors that even the best behaviorists have a hard time figuring out, I do believe I can explain this one. All birds have very efficient digestive systems that process food quickly so this food isn’t weighing them down very long. As efficient as their digestive systems are, the system can’t digest everything the bird swallows. With Peregrines eating mostly other birds, you might guess that as they swallow the meat and bones from the prey item, Peregrines will also swallow many feathers during the meal. Peregrines cannot digest feathers. As the digestive juices within the stomach dissolve the meat and bones, the movements of the stomach compact the feathers into a pellet that’s shaped roughly like an egg. About once a day, and usually in the morning, the pellet is regurgitated from the mouth. I get to see the nest floors when I visit nests to band chicks, and the floor is littered with pellets. Yes, you can take apart dried pellets to see what birds a Peregrine has been eating.
When a bird gets ready to “throw” a pellet the back of their neck arches up and their moth opens wide. As the pellet moves up the esophagus the bird will shake its head side to side to expel the pellet. We naturalists at WBS get to see this behavior all the time from the birds we handle on a daily basis. Sometimes the pellet doesn’t come up in one piece. When this happens a bird will throw its head in many directions, including over its back, to bring up the rest of the pellet. I believe the viewer with the question was seeing our female with a small piece of pellet somewhat stuck in her esophagus. No worries, folks. I’ve seen our mom several times since the day the viewer saw her, and she’s fine and dandy!
At 39 days old our chick could be leaving the box over the next 7 or so days. If she chooses to walk the I-beams our camera man will do his best to find her so we can keep watching. If she flies away from the box I’ll write one last ASK JEFF for the season. Of course, like all of you I’ll hope we get to watch her for as many days as possible.
Talk to you next week!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hi Folks. I just looked at our chick, 6 June at 1:55 pm, 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 2 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 in at once. Each feather on a Peregrine has a life expectancy of about 2 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 2 replacement feathers are done growing in another 2 will molt, and so on. The bird can molt in 2 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 timeframe. 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 they remember. The person who wrote the question pertained it to this 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.
As I mentioned in the last ASK JEFF, once the chick leaves the nest I’ll write one final ASK JEFF for the 2018 Ameren Missouri Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine Cam season. I’ll talk to you sometime soon!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello all! Apologies for the lateness of this last of the 2018 Peregrine Cam season’s ASK JEFF. The team was trying to get the exact last day the chick was seen at or near the nest, and we came up with 7 June. During the last few days we saw her she was on top of the box and on the I-beams behind and to the left of the box. Whenever one of her parents came back with prey, they’d fly into the nest and the chick would come scrambling back to get her meal. During these later days the chick would just grab the prey and go someplace else with it. At the very least, she would turn away from the parent and spread her wings and tail out, hiding the prey from the parent. In the bird of prey world, this behavior is called mantling.
There were a couple great questions over the last 3 weeks!
A person watching adult Peregrines nesting in a box on the Throgs Neck Bridge that crosses the Hudson River in New York state saw 3 adults at the box (the box had young chicks in it), and the adults seemed to be getting along! As you might guess, the large majority of Peregrine pairs (and bird pairs) in the world do not tolerate any other adults in their nesting territory, and vigorously attack any Peregrine that comes into their territory. However, there are some cases of one adult male having two breeding females in his territory. The one instance I read about happened near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Through chick blood sampling it was proven that the adult male was the father of all the chicks. His two females nested in separate places, though. I personally would find it hard to believe that there were 2 females in the same box, or there were 2 males in the same territory with one female, but this is the thing about nature, folks. It is rare that you can be absolute about anything. If the person who wrote to me about the Throgs Neck trio would like to write again if he/she has gathered new information about these Peregrines, that would be fine with me.
Another person asked if/how we track the chicks. We have never placed any kind of transmitter on any of the 26 chicks that have been produced at Ameren’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center since we placed the nest camera, but with every chick we do place a colored band on one of the legs. These bands have two colored fields, one on top of the other. I’ve placed black over green, black over red and black over blue bands on the chicks over the years. Each colored field has letters and/or numbers within each field. The size of these numbers/letters and the colored fields each number/letter is in make it easy to see, especially with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Because of these bands I’ve gotten many band returns over the years, giving me information about chicks I banded, and I’ve given many colored band sightings to my Peregrine banding colleagues. These bands are how we know our male was hacked at a power plant in southern Missouri in 2006 and our female was banded at a cliff nest in Minnesota the same year. These bands may not be as good as a satellite transmitter on a bird, but we still are able to collect lots of information we otherwise wouldn’t know.
With the transmitters, the chicks have to be full grown because the transmitters are placed on the bird’s back using Teflon straps that make a harness. With the optimal banding age being about 20 days old, I could not put a harness on such a young bird because it still would have so much growing to do. To use a satellite transmitter you have to catch the full grown youngsters using falconry trapping methods. Maybe one day we will place a satellite transmitter on one of our young birds.
My, how time flies (pun intended) when you are having fun. The 2018 Peregrine Cam season saw some tragedy and also a miracle. With our living chick falling from the nest box at such a young age, most would have thought it would have perished. Yet, with the hard and timely work of the Falcon Cam team and the World Bird Sanctuary’s rehabilitation staff, we were able to nurse the chick to good health and get it back into the box fast enough where the parents still wanted to care for it. The miracle chick went through the rest of its nest life without issue and left the nest to destinations unknown. We all hope one day someone spots the band and we find our miracle chick has become part of a breeding pair somewhere else in the world. Thanks to all of you that wrote in with questions, to the rest that intently watched our Peregrine Falcons, and I look forward to writing to all of you in 2019!
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director