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