Thursday, May 21, 2009

Falcon Chick Springs Forward!

Contributed by Bruce Connery, Biologist, National Park Service.

Spring is edging closer to summer with each day and the chick is marking these days with amazing changes in development and growth. Almost three weeks have passed since hatching, and the slow changes witnessed in the beginning will soon be replaced with big daily changes in movements, behavior, and development. It helps to be the sole focus of your parent’s attention and to have been blessed with good weather this spring for Maine’s coastal areas. The eruption of feathers will become more and more apparent, beginning first along the wings and tail followed by the back and head and eventually everywhere. Soon the young chick will begin to actively take food from its parents and feed itself, matched with small forays around the scrape with bursts of wing flapping and hopping. All signs of a rapidly developing young falcon.

The witnessed changes on the developing chick suggest it is doing fine and suggests to biologists that the best time to enter the scrape to collect information is approaching. The chick’s development serves as a guide in determining the correct dates to collect the data and permanently mark the chick with identification bands with a minimal risk to both the chick and the adults. The bands provide a permanent tracking tool that is visible and not burdensome, allowing managers and anyone the opportunity to re-identify the bird throughout its lifetime without the need for additional handling by humans that is likely to be both stressful and an opportunity for injury. At this time, the unhatched eggs also will be collected as they will provide valuable information to biologists interested in learning of any embryo development and what contaminant burdens are present through chemical analyses. Combined, the results of these data will provide an inside view of some of the factors facing the adults and the young chick, being valuable information to biologists and managers trying to identify factors and conditions that are or can threaten these birds and their habitats.

Explanations of why only one egg hatched are abundant. The use of an artificial platform, or tray, as a scrape at this site is not unusual to falcon pairs in New England, as many have been documented throughout this region. However their use is less typical for most of the nesting territories found in Maine and for much of northern New England. Appropriately positioned trays often provide excellent nesting conditions on buildings and towers with their suitably-sized pea gravel substrate, superb drainage, and correct orientation to weather conditions. However, Maine and other northeastern states are blessed with numerous natural cliff faces that are found above rivers, lakes, coastal headlands, and on near shore islands. These natural cliff faces provide ample opportunities for peregrine adults to be highly selective in choosing the sites with the best drainage, protection from the elements, access and visibility, and foraging opportunities.

Bruce Connery
National Park Service

Monday, May 4, 2009

Peregrine and Parenthood

Peregrines and Parenthood

By Ron Joseph, Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife

“How very exciting and quite a relief”: a blogger’s response to Patrick’s announcement of a falcon hatchling summarized our collective feelings. I couldn’t have stated it better myself. Admittedly, as the days dragged past a projected first hatch date, I had my doubts that any eggs had survived the cold snap that coincided with egg laying more than a month ago. Trying times are still ahead for this youngster and any sibling(s) that may hatch over the next few days (don’t be surprised if an egg or two doesn’t hatch). As my father was fond of saying, “They’re not out of the woods yet.” But there is reason for optimism. Peregrines are very dedicated parents so we’ll see food deliveries increase especially as the young mature. The adult male has been busy off camera caching food in “cupboards” such as crevices or ledges on old buildings or bridges. Those prey items will be retrieved and delivered to the attending adult. She’ll tear meat from a bird (most likely killed on the wing) before feeding it to her young. Since the young will be nearly full grown when they fledge in six weeks (six plus a few days for females), you can imagine how much food will be delivered by both parents.

At one month old, the young will compete with each other for food delivered by their parents. The nestlings will aggressively strike at food with their talons. It’s during this stage of their young’s development that parents, not wanting to be “footed” by a hungry youngster’s sharp talons, will drop food off quickly before departing the nest box. Some young are reluctant to leave the comfort of the eyrie when it’s time to fledge (sounds like my 19-year old son!). I once watched an adult female peregrine in Bryce Canyon National Park fly close to her eyrie clutching a dead white-throated swift in an attempt to encourage one reluctant youngster to fledge. It was actually quite entertaining. The youngster’s siblings had already fledged. But this particular youngster had no intention of leaving the red sandstone cliff eyrie. Each time a parent flew close by carrying food, the youngster would open its wings and scream defiantly. Finally, as the nestling leaned forward again with open wings, a strong gust of wind lifted it sideways out of the nest. The fledgling soon discovered the value of wings as it awkwardly chased its parents. The adult female dropped the dead swift and the youngster caught it in mid-air.

Peregrines in Maine also prefer to catch birds on the wing. Experienced adults use the sun to their advantage during hunting forays. They “climb” high in the sky, positioning themselves between the sun and their targeted prey knowing full well that an unsuspecting blue jay, for example, won’t look up into the sun where the peregrine is making its stoop. Peregrines fly over 100 mph (and sometimes much more) in a dive; their talons form a loose fist until the moment they strike. When peregrines hit their prey, be it blue-winged teal or grackle, the feathers fly as the injured bird tumbles through the air.

I collected feathers from over a dozen different bird species (i.e. rose-breasted grosbeak, northern flicker, mourning dove, American robin, to name a few) in one western Maine eyrie in the mid-90s. The Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sent the feathers to the late Roxie Laybourne of the Smithsonian Institute for identification. She was the world’s leading expert on bird identification from forensic evidence. I was privileged to work with Ms. Laybourne when I worked as a raptor biologist in Utah. She helped me identify lots of prey remains from many peregrine eyries. She could identify the age and sex of a bird based on one feather. Ms. Laybourne told me once that she helped the FBI solve a murder by matching the pillow feathers in a dead man’s nose with the pillow used by the murderer!

If all goes well in the weeks ahead, the young peregrine(s) should fledge sometime in mid-June. The nest box will become littered with small feathers, desiccated prey bones, and lots of white wash (falcon excrement). Be sure to turn on the volume because nestlings are quite vocal, especially when food is delivered.

Ron Joseph
Wildlife Biologist

Friday, May 1, 2009

Press Release--Falcon Hatch

Peregrine Falcon Egg Hatches on Live Webcam

GORHAM, Maine, May 1st, 2009—BioDiversity Research Institute’s Peregrine Cam has captured the hatching of a falcon chick at 2:17 this morning. See the birds live at

Editors/Reporters: See the peregrines live at For still shots to print, reply to or call (207) 839-7600, ext. 118.

“We are ecstatic about seeing this egg hatch” said Education and Outreach Coordinator Patrick Keenan. “We were starting to get worried as we expected the eggs to hatch last week. However we trusted the birds which have dutifully incubated their four eggs since March 25th. Now their efforts have paid off.”

The BRI Peregrine Cam is one of BRI’s fleet of wildlife webcams. BRI Eagle Cam2 features nesting eagles incubating two eggs that may hatch as early as May 6th. Ospreys on BRI Osprey Cam laid eggs on April 27th and BRI Finch Cam is featuring the rapid development of five finch nestlings. In addition to all this, BRI Loon Cam was installed on April 28th. Watch BRI wildlife webcams at

The BRI Peregrine cam is a cutting edge research and educational tool. It offers two perspectives of the nest tray and is equipped with a camera that functions in extremely low light, allowing for monitoring night and day. In fact, this camera has documented the earliest case of nesting Peregrine Falcons in Maine. The first egg was laid on March 20th!

“We hope that this camera provides a new opportunity for individuals around the world to connect with wildlife and learn about the vast array of issues that wildlife face,” says Wing Goodale, Deputy Director at BioDiversity Research Institute. “People all over the world have been watching these webcams and joining our online community ( to learn more about the species that we feature.

The BRI Peregrine cam is provided free of charge by Gorham, Maine-based BioDiversity Research Institute in collaboration with and support from NextEra Energy Resources, Bank of America, Kids in the Nest, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

BioDiversity Research Institute is a nonprofit ecological research group that supports global health by conducting collaborative ecological research, assessing ecosystem health, promoting environmental awareness, and informing science based decision making.

First egg hatches!

Hello all,
We would like to welcome a Falcon hatchling to the world. The first egg hatched early this morning at about 2:17 AM. Be sure to check in to see these adults feeding this nestling! What an exciting morning!
All the Best,
Patrick Keenan
BioDiversity Research Institute