Jun 17, 2006

Birdcam 2001

Where did these falcons come from?
The female (Mariah) is of unknown heritage. The male (Cabot-Sirocco) hatched in a nest box on top of the Sheraton Hotel at the corners of King and Victoria Streets in Toronto, Canada. We know that from the band on his left leg. Learn more about our falcons’ family history and the background of this project.

Who is responsible for these falcons?
The adult male and female falcons, and their hatchlings, are legally wards of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. However, Kodak’s nesting box is under the supervision of the Rochester Peregrine Falcon Project. Dennis Money (founder of this project, and also Principal Environmental Analyst for Rochester Gas & Electric) is licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to temporarily possess and transport injured peregrine falcons. Brad Carney (Birdcam Project Manager at Kodak) is also licensed to handle these birds. In case of an emergency, Brad would be first on the scene since he works on the premises.

How old are the adult falcons?
We aren’t sure of Mariah’s age, but we believe she’s at least four or five years old, judging by the fact that she laid four eggs this year. Typically, starting at the age of two or three, female peregrine falcons lay only two or three eggs a year. After that, they can lay up to five eggs at a time.

We know that Cabot-Sirocco (the male) is four years old. We were able to track down his history because of the band on his left leg.

How many offspring do Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco have?
This year, there are four hatchlings in the Kodak Tower clutch. Peregrine falcons mate for life, and they return to the same nesting place each year. Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco are the parents of six other falcons from their two previous clutches atop Kodak Tower. Flash, Digit, and Silver hatched in 1998; and Maxine, Zoom, and Brownie hatched in 1999. All but Silver were females. (See their family tree.)

How old are this year’s hatchlings?
Mariah laid four eggs this year from March 27 through April 3. The first egg hatched on May 5. By May 7, all four hatchlings were out of their eggs and doing well.

Are the hatchlings males or females?
This year’s clutch included one female and three males. In their last two clutches at Kodak Tower, Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco had primarily female offspring.

Gender is determined by various measurements, such as the size of their legs. Calipers measure the diameter of their legs. Females have larger legs than males have.

How and when will the hatchlings get names?
The hatchlings received their names (Mary Ann, MichaelAllen, McKeever, and Mr. Money) on banding day, May 25, 2000. They were named after the following people who have been instrumental in our program: Mary Ann Giglio, Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Board, George Fisher; Michael Allen, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who bands our falcons each year; Kay and Larry McKeever, founders of the Owl Foundation of Ontario, Canada; and Dennis Money, founder of the Rochester Peregrine Falcon Project.

How and when will the hatchlings be banded?
On May 25, 2000 officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Dennis Money of the Rochester Peregrine Falcon Project went to the Kodak Tower nest box. The hatchlings were carefully placed into a five-gallon bucket, and then lowered into the building for a health check and banding. At this point, the hatchlings weren’t able to fly, but their legs were adult size.

The banding team used calipers to measure each hatchling’s leg diameter. This measurement indicates the birds’ gender: females have larger legs. The banding team brought lightweight, red and black aluminum bands, in different sizes. They placed a band on each falcon’s left leg, and secured it with rivets. The band will not impede flying or hunting.

Banding is one tool for keeping track of migratory birds like peregrine falcons. However, this strategy only works when trained observers report sightings of banded falcons. So even through the hatchlings will be banded, we may never know where they go or what they do after they leave the nest box.

When will the hatchlings learn to fly?
Typically, peregrine falcons are ready to fly approximately 38 to 42 days after hatching. This means that this year’s clutch may be testing their wings by the week of June 10.

Once the hatchlings start to fly, they’ll be testing their wings all around the Kodak building. They’ll find favorite perching places as they begin to explore. Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco with teach their young the fine art of flying, watching carefully for danger and mishaps as the hatchlings experiment and play. Young falcons often chase each other across the sky—an exciting and fun way to develop strength, speed, skill, and judgement.

How will the young falcons learn to hunt?
Peregrine falcons eat smaller birds such as pigeons and starlings, so the young must learn to pursue and catch their meals in mid-air. Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco will teach their four new offspring how to hunt as well as fly. At first the young will practice by diving after leaves and butterflies. Then their parents will start dropping food to them, which they must catch while flying. Young falcons learn fast—by mid-July these birds should be seeking their own prey.

What will happen to the young falcons when they leave the nest box?
Peregrine falcons typically leave the nest when they are ten to twelve weeks old. Once they leave the nest, they’re entirely on their own and they will roam wherever they choose. They tend to go where there are other birds, although they keep their distance from fellow peregrines. It’s possible that the young falcons from Kodak Tower may follow the Lake Ontario coast up to Canada.

Dennis Money of the Rochester Peregrine Falcon Project and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation banded this year’s hatchlings on May 25, but banded birds can be tracked only through reported sightings. So we may never know where these birds will go.

The first year after leaving the nest is a crucial and risky time. Peregrine falcons must gain experience with flying and hunting, as well as with avoiding obstacles and predators. Accidents are more likely to happen while the falcons are young. Male peregrine falcons typically leave the nest first.

What’s the story behind the adult peregrines’ names?
Peregrine falcons fly like the wind, so we wanted names associated with that feeling. Kodak staff named the female falcon Mariah, after George Eastman’s mother, Maria (pronounced Mariah) Kilbourn and the 1960s song “They Call the Wind Mariah.”

Kodak staff also named the male Sirocco, meaning “a desert wind storm.” Later, we learned that Sirocco came from a nest box in Toronto, Canada, where he was originally named Cabot (since he learned to fly on the 500th anniversary of explorer John Cabot’s arrival in Newfoundland). With respect to his first Canadian name, we renamed the male Cabot-Sirocco.

Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco have mated before. Where are their other offspring now?
We don’t know, for the most part. Peregrine falcons wander far and wide, even to different countries or continents.

Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco are the parents of six other falcons, who hatched in 1998 and 1999. All six were banded before they left the nest. This year’s hatchlings were banded on May 25. However, banding only helps in tracking birds when sightings are reported.

Currently, we know the whereabouts of only one of the offspring, Maxine, who is recovering at the Owl Foundation (Ontario, Canada) from an injury to her wing. She was apparently struck by a car in November 1999, but is doing well and should be released back to the wild soon.

It is presumed that Maxine was hit by a car. Is this common for peregrines?
Maxine was apparently hit by a car, but we’ll never know for sure. It’s likely that Maxine was chasing after a meal (a smaller bird) and either didn’t see or wasn’t able to maneuver out of the path of the car which struck her. Sadly, peregrine falcons are often injured or killed by vehicle collisions. Garbage and litter, carelessly tossed along the road, attract mice and mice attract peregrine falcons. Also, they sometimes fly into utility lines or clear panes of glass on windows. Such accidents are most common when the birds are young—just learning how to fly and fend for themselves.

Where do Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco go in the winter?
We observed Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco flying in the vicinity of the nest box at least once or twice a week, throughout the winter of 1999. Not all urban peregrine falcons migrate. Often the abundant food supply keeps the urban peregrine falcons in the area.

Why do Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco keep coming back to the same nest box? Is it a territorial thing?
Peregrine falcons are indeed very territorial, but no one knows for sure why they mate for life and return to the same nesting place every year. It’s possible that Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco, with their keen vision, have “imprinted” on the skyline of Rochester and the shape of the Kodak Tower.

In Australia, carbon dating has shown that some nesting locations have been used by peregrine falcons for as long as 10,000 years!

Will this year’s hatchlings come back to Kodak Tower next year, too?
It’s unlikely. Each nesting pair of peregrine falcons prefers to select its own private location. If by chance any of Mariah and Cabot-Sirocco’s offspring were to return with mates to the place of their birth during nesting season, their parents would drive them off—as they would any other “invading” peregrine. After the young falcons leave the nest, all family ties and loyalty are dissolved. The young are not entitled to return home, nor are they welcome.

Are there other peregrine falcon nests in the Rochester area?
The Rochester Peregrine Falcon Project, which provided the Kodak Tower nest box and is responsible for the birds’ welfare, has another nest box at Russell Station, NY (near Lake Ontario). This nest box was erected in 1995 atop a power plant belonging to Rochester Gas & Electric. However, so far no peregrine falcons have nested there. (It may be that this nest box is not high enough to suit a peregrine’s taste.) Also, peregrine falcons do nest in the wild in upper New York State—on cliffs, mountains, and even buildings. The exact number and location of these nests is unknown.

Is the Lake Ontario coast a popular spot for peregrine falcons?
During migratory periods, yes—but not just for peregrines! Tens of thousands of birds of prey migrate through this region every spring, including several thousand peregrines.

Are there other peregrine falcon birdcams on the Web?
Yes. Northern States Power (a major Midwestern utility) hosts peregrine falcon nest boxes at two of their power plants in Minnesota. Both of these have millennium clutches of young falcons.

What do peregrine falcons look like?
These birds of prey are not very large. They typically weigh just over two pounds, with a wingspan of about 3.5 feet. Females generally are about one-third larger than males.

Peregrines are strikingly beautiful—almost formal. Adults have a dark grey back, and a distinctive black mustache-like stripe on either side of the face. The chest tends to be white with dark brown spots. These birds also have long, strong legs and large, bright-yellow feet with sharp talons. Peregrine hatchlings are covered with grey fuzz for the first few weeks of life, but they soon develop coloring similar to adults.

What does “peregrine” mean?
Peregrine means “having a tendency to wander”—which is appropriate, since these birds roam far and wide (even to different continents). The term comes from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “foreigner” or “traveler."”

Is the peregrine falcon really the world’s fastest bird?
Yes. In a stoop (dive), peregrines have been clocked at speeds ranging up to 200 mph. To avoid being blinded by high wind speeds during dives, these birds have evolved a special transparent eye membrane. They also have special nostril valves that deflect airflow during dives, which keeps their lungs from exploding. In level flight, peregrines typically travel at 40 to 55 mph.

What else makes peregrine falcons special?
Peregrine falcons have a long legacy and history associated with humans. For instance, the ancient Egyptians revered the peregrine as a god.

In the centuries-old aristocratic sport of falconry, the peregrine has been the historical choice of kings due to its speed and ability to imprint quickly on humans. However, peregrines demand rigorous daily care and handling. So today, only the most dedicated falconers fly peregrines.

Egg collectors have long-prized peregrine falcon eggs—and in fact, this significantly contributed to the near-extinction of this species in the 20th century.

Is the peregrine falcon still an endangered species?
Yes and no. In August 1999 the peregrine falcon was officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered and threatened species. (It was on this list since 1970.) Thanks to the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT, increased awareness among egg collectors, and diligent efforts from conservationists around the world, over the past three decades the peregrine falcon population has made a strong—although not yet complete—recovery.

Although the peregrine falcon is currently off the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still must monitor this species extensively for thirteen years. If necessary, the species will be put back on the federal endangered or threatened species list. The peregrine falcon also is protected at the federal level by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Many states have their own laws to protect endangered species, and the peregrine falcon is still listed as an endangered or threatened species in some states—including New York State and throughout the northeastern United States.

What do peregrine falcons eat? How do they get their food?
Peregrines are aerial hunters. They mainly eat smaller birds, which they catch and kill in mid-air (often during spectacular high-speed dives). Occasionally, they also eat bats.

An adult female peregrine will eat a pigeon-sized bird every day. The smaller male will eat a blackbird- or starling-sized bird every day. When they’re raising young chicks, the adults will kill and eat much more. A typical family of five peregrines (two adults, three young) will eat about 500 pounds of smaller birds in a year.

Before hatchlings can leave the nest, adults will catch prey, bring it back to the nest, rip it into small pieces, and carefully feed it to the young.

How long do peregrine falcons live?
In the wild, peregrines generally live 8 to 10 years. In captivity, some birds have lived 16 or more years.

How do peregrines die?
Most peregrine falcons do not die of old age. Parasites, poisons, and accidents all take their toll. About 75% of the peregrine population turns over each year—which is why nest-box programs have been crucial to saving this species.

The modern world holds new dangers for peregrines. Cars, utility lines, and clear panes of glass kill many peregrines—especially young, inexperienced flyers.

DDT is still a problem, causing some peregrines to lay dangerously thin-shelled eggs even today. Although this pesticide has been banned in the U.S. and Canada since the early 1970s, residual DDT can persist in the environment for decades—perhaps even centuries. Also, DDT still is used in Mexico and South America—a big problem for globetrotting raptors.

Peregrine falcons have few natural predators. Occasionally, golden eagles or great horned owls will make off with hatchlings, but this is rare.

What are nest boxes? Why do people build them?
In the 1970s, conservationists began building nest boxes to help rescue the then-dwindling peregrine population. Nest boxes offer young peregrines a bit more security and shelter.

Nest boxes incorporate many elements of the peregrine’s natural breeding environment—a fairly flat surface, no padding, and situated at a high, inaccessible point with an excellent view of the hunting territory below. The Kodak Tower nest box also contains small pea gravel to provide drainage and to help stop eggs from rolling.

Where do peregrines live when they’re not in a nest box? Do they have another type of nest?
In the wild, peregrine falcons do not build nests—not even during breeding season. They often lay their eggs in precarious, exposed depressions that they scrape out with their talons on the ledges of tall cliffs or buildings. They’ve even laid eggs on steel and concrete. Occasionally, peregrines will use the abandoned nests of other birds. When it’s not breeding season, these birds of prey have no home at all. They simply fly from perch to perch.

Why do peregrine falcons roost on buildings?
One of the peregrine’s great strengths is its ability to adapt to a changing environment. As humans have encroached on their natural habitat, peregrines have become creative about finding new homes in the urban landscape.

In many ways, skyscrapers resemble high cliffs—peregrines’ natural habitat. Tall buildings offer lofty perches from which peregrines can scout for prey. Older skyscrapers, especially those with Gothic or Art Deco design, may be especially attractive to peregrines since they offer many nooks and crannies. Peregrines also will roost on smokestacks, bridges, and other tall man-made structures.

Do peregrine falcons migrate? If so, where?
Like most raptors, peregrine falcons migrate. Some even travel to different continents in the course of a year. There are peregrines on every continent except Antarctica.

Peregrines also mate for life. Each mating pair chooses its own breeding location, and returns to the same place year after year to raise young. But outside of the breeding season, males and females go their separate ways. However, some individual peregrines have been known to remain in the same general area year-round.

Are peregrines territorial? How much territory do they need?
Peregrine falcons are highly territorial. Individual adults (or, during breeding season, mating pairs) generally patrol a 10-mile radius, and they diligently drive away and sometimes kill other peregrines that “invade” their hunting grounds—even their own offspring. However, some peregrines have been known to make territorial concessions in urban areas. For instance, in New York City some peregrines co-exist as close as a mile or two from each other.

What should I do if I find a downed or injured peregrine?
Act very carefully to prevent injury to both the bird and yourself. Remember: Peregrines have very sharp beaks and strong talons, and they may try to use them if they’re frightened.

At the first opportunity, call for expert assistance from state wildlife officials, a local wildlife rescue group, or a veterinarian who cares for birds. If expert help won’t arrive for some time, get another person to help you if possible.

If the falcon is still somewhat mobile and must be captured or contained, approach it slowly—one person from the front, and the other from behind. Take your time and let the bird relax—if it’s not moving around too much it won’t get overheated, and it’s less likely to panic. Remain motionless whenever the falcon turns its head to look directly at you. Gently drop a light shirt, cloth, or towel over the bird’s head to help it calm down and make it easier to capture.

Handle an injured peregrine only if absolutely necessary. You may want to wear heavy gloves. But be very, very gentle—this bird’s bones are easily injured.

If you must handle the bird, hold it with two hands. Put one open palm on the back (dorsal) surface of each wing—but be extremely careful and gentle. If a wing appears broken (likely if the falcon can’t fold it), be especially gentle and careful when touching that side of the bird’s body. Do not attempt to hold a peregrine by the legs.

If you must transport the injured peregrine yourself, carefully place it in an animal carrier. Put another towel on the bottom if possible. In an emergency, you also could use a cardboard box. Take the bird to the nearest avian veterinarian.

After the falcon is in a doctor’s care, call your state’s wildlife officials or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Report the circumstances of the incident. If the peregrine was wearing a legband, report the identification number on the band. (Do this also if you find a dead peregrine.)

Where can I learn more about peregrine falcons?
Three good resources are:

The Peregrine Fund
Boise, ID
Email: tpf@peregrinefund.org
Phone: 208-362-3716

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Resources include:
Information about the recovery of the peregrine falcon population
Commonly asked questions about the peregrine falcon (Adobe Acrobat pdf file)
A peregrine falcon fact sheet

University of Minnesota Raptor Center
St. Paul, MN
Email: raptor@umn.edu
Phone: 612-624-4745

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