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! Yesterday morning (18 March) we found the first egg in the nest. This signifies the start of the 8th year we will show you the nesting lives of Ameren Missouri’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine Falcon pair. For those of you that have watched over the years, you will probably notice the box is in the same location as all years past. Back in early January I replaced the gravel in the box and gave the box a good inspection. It’s more than sound enough to house our Peregrine pair and their chicks for another year.
The gentleman that runs the camera has been keeping a close eye on the box, and he and I have already determined we have the same male and female as last year. As a refresher, the female is a 2006 hatch and was banded as a chick in a cliff nest at a state park in Minnesota. This is her 5th year as Portage de Sioux’s breeding female. The male is a 2004 hatch, and this is his 3rd year as the breeding male. He was raised in captivity and released to the wild (the process known as hacking) at a power plant in New Madrid, Missouri. Of course, we know the histories of each bird because of the bands they have on their legs. If you get a chance to see the legs as you watch, the female has a 2-colored band, black over green, with a sideways D in the black field and a sideways V in the green field. The male also has a black over green band, with a normal D in the black and a 53 in the green. If you have the privilege to see both birds at the nest box, the female is considerably larger than the male, which is typical with birds of prey.
I’m looking forward to again fielding your questions as the nesting season unfolds. I’m very excited that we are able to watch again, and I wish our nesting pair the best of luck for the 2019 season.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
Hello all! Our female, being 13 years old this year, has done it again. She’s managed to lay 5 eggs, just like last year. Thirteen years old is quite old for a Peregrine, and the male is 15 this year. Just like humans in their later years, bodily systems don’t work as efficiently as when we were younger. There’s more of a chance some of the eggs won’t hatch, but of course we will hope for the best.
If my calculations are correct, our female laid her last egg on March 26th. She laid her first egg on 18 March, and Peregrines usually lay an egg every 2 days until the clutch, or full number of eggs laid, is finished. The incubation period for a Peregrine egg is about 30 days, so the chicks should start hatching on 26 April.
You may notice I used words like “usually” and “about” to describe egg laying and incubation period. As much as we know about birds, there are still variables that could make small changes in number of days between eggs laid and egg development during incubation. If our female had 3 days between, say, egg 3 and 4, then the hatching date could be off by a day or 2. If mom had to leave the eggs to, say, defend the nest from another bird of prey, egg development could have slowed, which may change the hatch date. Most birds usually (there, I used it again) won’t start constant incubation until the full clutch is laid. This delay in incubation makes it so all the eggs hatch in about 24 hours. In the Peregrine world, mom and dad will feed those chicks that push, squabble and get closest to mom/dad as they present the food. Birds grow so quickly that if there were 2 days between the ages of each chick, the first 2 or 3 hatched would be bigger, stronger and would probably get most of the food, and the 2 smallest would more likely perish. Having all the chicks hatch within 24 hours makes it so they are roughly the same size, and each will have a great shot at getting their fair share of the food and surviving to fledging (flying from the nest).
So far I’ve had no questions to answer. Let’s get to it, folks! Put a challenging question out there for me to tackle. I look forward to any and all questions you may have.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director
As with every year we’ve had the privilege of watching the Ameren Missouri’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine pair (we’re into our 8th year in a row), we are now into the incubation period by about 14 days. I’ll admit there’s not too much to see as the female provides the warmth that allows the eggs to develop into chicks. I’ll use the example of raking leaves. Yes, not the most stimulating of jobs, but when you are done, take a step back and look at your yard, you almost always say, “Wow, that looks nice!” I know we will all be elated when in 2 and a half weeks or so our female gets up from her scrape and shows us her beautiful chicks.
Earlier this week I was watching in the 3 o’clock hour and got to see some hilarious footage (the footage I speak of is on the web site). When I turned on the feed, I could tell the male was on the nest. A couple of times a day the female takes a break, and the male flies in and assumes incubation duties for sometimes as long as an hour. I could tell the bird I was looking at was the male because he’s considerably smaller than her, and just doesn’t take up that much space in the nest box.
For those that don’t already know, there are 5 eggs. When the female incubates, she has no problem covering all 5 with her bigger body, and seems to be comfortable enough to even doze off as she sits. Not so with the male. With the smaller body, I had to laugh out loud as he got up, changed angle, settled back down, then got up again, changed angle, settled down, then got up…you get the picture. He had to use his wings to help keep the eggs underneath him. Several times he also gently used his beak to push an egg back under his breast. It was so obvious he was not comfortable with all the “lumps.” After 10 minutes of this, I saw that he was looking up at something, and even slowly turned his head to follow the progress of the invisible-to-me entity. Of course it was the female, probably soaring on a thermal, enjoying the last minutes of her break. The male gently got off the eggs, stretched his sleek wings above his body, hopped to the perching in front of the box, then jumped into the blue. About 1 minute later, mom landed on the same perching, stepped into the box, balled up her feet and settled on the eggs.
There’s a theory that a female raptor’s body is larger than the males so she can more easily keep the eggs, and then young chicks warm. From what I observed, I’m in 100% agreement with this theory.
There were a few questions this time! Thanks to those of you who took me up on the challenge from the last ASK JEFF. First question is how high off the ground is the nest box? It’s 167 feet from the ground. I do not have to climb all that way. Most of that distance is covered by an elevator ride. The last 30 feet are ladders.
Second question is what happens to a chick or chicks that die as youngsters? Are they consumed by the parents or other chicks? With Peregrines it would be quite rare for a dead chick to be eaten by its nest mates or a parent. The parents are great food providers and would have had to fall on hard, prey catching times for this to happen. One of the theories on why any mated pair of birds settles on a territory is food abundance.
Last question is would I intervene and remove a weak chick to correct the health issue and then get it back to the nest? I would not, with the main reason being the disturbance I would have to create to climb to the nest to remove the chick, then have to climb to it again to put the chick back in. Climbing to the nest creates stress on especially the parents, so I make sure I go to the nest only once to place the bands on the chicks and draw a small sample of blood to make sure there are no human made toxins within. The scientific knowledge we gain from placing bands on the chicks and knowing what is and isn’t in their blood is the only instance worth placing stress on the parents. When I climb I make sure all my actions, and the actions of those around me are efficient, so the chicks are removed from the nest as little time as possible.
Great questions, folks! Keep them coming. Talk to you next week.
Jeff Meshach, Deputy Director