Archive for the 'Peregrines' Category

Jan 22 2015

Virginia’s Peregines Thrive

Published by under Peregrines

Mother peregrine at the Tarentum Bridge, 23 June 2012 (photo by Sean Dicer)

The female peregrine at the Tarentum Bridge is from Virginia (photo by Sean Dicer)

Last week William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) published news of Virginia’s peregrine falcons in 2014.

As in Pennsylvania, Virginia’s breeding peregrine population has climbed from zero in the early 1970s to a nest count that matches the pre-DDT days.  But just as in Pennsylvania most peregrines don’t nest in the mountains anymore.

Breeding peregrine falcons in Virginia from 1977-2014. Data from CCB.

Breeding peregrine falcons in Virginia from 1977-2014. Graph courtesy of the Center for Conservation Biology

In the report Libby Mojica of CCB writes, “Virginia’s falcon population is predominantly on the coastal plain with 24 breeding pairs on the coast including 10 [man-made] peregrine towers, 1 ground nest, 8 bridges, 1 Coast Guard navigation tower, 2 fishing shacks, 1 power plant stack, and 1 high-rise building. The population in the western part of the state remains small with only 3 pairs nesting on rock cliffs.”

Because of strong winds fledgling mortality is high at Virginia’s peregrine bridges so each year CCB, in cooperation with VDOT, translocates some of the bridge fledglings to hack boxes in the Shenandoah Mountains.  This gives the young peregrines a better chance at life and may even persuade a few to nest in the mountains.

“Hope,” who nests at the Tarentum Bridge, was one of those translocated birds.  She hatched on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge in Hopewell, Virginia in 2008 and was hacked in the Shenandoahs but she didn’t stay there long.  Instead she flew nearly 200 miles northwest to nest on a bridge over the Allegheny River.  We’re happy to have her!

Click here or on the population graph to read more about Virgina’s peregrine falcons in 2014.  Scroll down to see a photo of a ground-nesting peregrine on the sand dunes.

 

(photo of “Hope” by  Sean Dicer. Graph of Virginia’s breeding peregrines courtesy of the Center for Conservation Biology)

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Jan 07 2015

Raiding The Pantry

How brave is a hungry owl?

In Bath, England St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church hosts a peregrine nestbox where The Hawk and Owl Trust runs a falconcam.  The peregrines can be seen on the webcam all year long because they use the nest ledge as a cache area in the off season.

Early last month the webcam picked up night-time activity when a tawny owl(*) discovered the peregrines’ cache.  In the video the owl feasts on leftover pigeon, eventually nervous that he might be seen.  Would the peregrines show up or would they sleep through his visit unaware?

The owl ate his fill without incident and remembered where he’d found this easy meal.  On subsequent nights he raided the pantry again and again until the peregrines got wise to him and stopped caching on the ledge.

The owl still visits and makes a thorough search, just in case. Here he stops by on New Year’s Day.

Oh well.  The party’s over.  There are only so many times you can raid the pantry before the owners stop stocking it!

 

Thanks to Hawk and Owl Trust for tweeting these cool videos.  Visit their website for more information about the Bath and Norwich peregrines.

(videos from Hawk and Owl Trust, UK)

(*) Tawny owls are Eurasian woodland birds whose closest North American relative is the barred owl.

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Dec 28 2014

Peregrine Holiday Greetings

Published by under Peregrines

Gulf Tower peregrine wishes us Happy Holidays (photo by Ann Hohn)

Dori stopped by last week to wish everyone Happy Holidays.  She looks fierce but she means well.

Thanks to Ann Hohn at Make-A-Wish for sending along this photo that she took from the office window at the Gulf Tower.

Happy Holidays. Really.

 

(photo by Ann Hohn)

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Dec 17 2014

She Went Far — Very Far

Published by under Peregrines

U.S. Peregrine ends up in Japan (photo of article by Gary Gerhardt in the Rocky Mountain News, July 16, 1993)

In February 1993 Mamoru Nakamura photographed a female peregrine 100 km southwest of Tokyo.  She didn’t look like one of two peregrine subspecies normally found in Japan and she had bands that no one recognized — an all-black band on her left leg 5/V* and a silver band on her right.

Her photograph made its way to Japanese raptor expert Teruaki Morioka, co-author of Birds of Japan in Photographs and author of Birds of Prey in Japan.

Believing this peregrine to be a Western Hemisphere anatum subspecies he sent a letter and photo to raptor expert William S. Clark, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hawks of North America.

Bill sent the photo to the National Park Service who confirmed her identity.  She was banded as a nestling at Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona in June 1991 and photographed in Japan in February 1993.

How did she get there?

The Rocky Mountain News article (snapshot above) called her “Wrong Way Peregrine” because she apparently flew west, not south as expected — but she may have been wandering as peregrines are wont to do.  Mike Britten of the National Park Service speculated that she hitched a ride on a ship crossing the Pacific and disembarked (without passport!) when she reached Japan.  We will never know.

In any case she went far — very far!

I heard about this bird from Bill Clark himself while on the Valley Raptors outing he led at last month’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  As we gazed at a peregrine perched on a water tower, Bill described this 1993 world traveler and later sent me a scan of the news article.

Thank you, Bill, for a great outing and such a wealth of raptor information!  I saw 13 Life Birds and my first ever aplomado falcon, white-tailed hawks and zone-tailed hawk on the Valley Raptors outing.

Check out Bill’s bio and publications here at The Peregrine Fund.

 

(photo of July 16, 1993 article by Gary Gerhardt in the Rocky Mountain News)

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Dec 12 2014

The Falcon Of The Queen

Screenshot of Falco della regina (screenshot from YouTube)

This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.

Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean.  It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.

Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.

Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395.  Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women.  The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.

Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.

As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.

 

(video posted on YouTube by santonagriva)

(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.

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Dec 08 2014

How To Escape A Peregrine Attack

If you haven’t seen this amazing video yet  …

Do great horned owls swim?  You bet they do if there’s nowhere else to go.

Last week passersby at Chicago’s Loyola Park saw a pair of peregrine falcons chasing a great horned owl away from their territory.  The owl flew out over Lake Michigan but the peregrines kept hammering it.  Eventually their attack forced the owl to ditch in the lake. Only then did the peregrines leave him alone.

Unlike ospreys, owls aren’t built to go airborne directly from the water so the owl swam the butterfly stroke to get back to shore.  peasant1 on YouTube captured it on video.

On the beach the owl caught his breath and dried out a bit before flying to a tree down the street.  Sand in wet feathers.  What an embarrassing mess!

That’s the last time this owl goes near Loyola Park!

 

(videos by peasant1 on YouTube, originally publicized by Fox 6 News)

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Nov 17 2014

Dorothy’s Oldest Granddaughter

Published by under Peregrines

Pittstop at Medina Raptor Center, 15 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dorothy, the matriarch peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, is 15 years old and no longer fertile but she’s fledged 42 youngsters and has many descendants.  Last weekend Karen Lang and I traveled to Medina Raptor Center to visit her oldest granddaughter.

Pittstop has lived at the Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio ever since she was found with an injured wing in North Olmsted on September 12, 2003. Though her injury happened in September, she’d been flying for only two months. She hatched in early June because her parents had had such an eventful spring.

Louie (Dorothy’s son) was only a year old that spring when he fought and killed Boris at the Gulf Tower and left Boris’ body in camera view. After the dust settled Louie and Tasha (a wild-born female who claimed the Gulf Tower in 1998) paired up and laid four eggs.  “Pittstop” was born in Pittsburgh and stopped in Ohio when she apparently hit a building.

Here, Annette Piechowski holds Pittstop high while she tells her story.  You can see that Pittstop’s wing is not quite right … but that’s not why she’s unreleasable.

Pittstop with Annette, glove up, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When her wing first healed Pittstop looked good in the flight cage and on the creance cord but she was stopped by incapacitating seizures. They’re related to her injury but no one knows how.  Sometimes they’re mild, sometimes grande mal, so she’s on medication to control them.  Evidently Pittstop knows when a seizure is coming on. Annette says she gets a faraway look on her face and flies down to the ground before the seizure happens.

Because of the seizures Pittstop does her educational work at the Raptor Center where she can receive immediate attention (and not alarm the public).  She’s a great peregrine ambassador.  Here she shows her concentration working with Toni McNamara.

Pittstop with Toni, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I’ve sponsored Pittstop for many years so I was anxious to see how she’s doing.  The last time I saw her she was still in juvenile plumage.  Here we had a little reunion.

Pittstop with Annette Piechowski and Kate St. John, 16 Nov 2014

Then Pittstop had a message for me though I couldn’t hear it. (She silently opened her beak.)

Pittstop says "Hey" to Kate St.John, with Annette Piechowski

 

Later Annette Piechowski, Toni McNamara and Jackie Cabonor gave us a great tour of the Raptor Center and showed us the many educational birds:  owls, hawks, more falcons and Migisi the bald eagle.  I’ll be blogging about these beautiful birds in the near future.

Thank you to Laura Jordan and everyone at Medina Raptor Center for the good work you do for raptors and for taking such good care of Pittstop.

It was great to see Dorothy’s oldest granddaughter.

 

(photos from Kate St. John’s camera taken by Kate St. John, Toni McNamara and Jacki Cabonor)

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Sep 29 2014

Follow An Arctic Peregrine On Migration

Published by under Migration,Peregrines

Arctic peregrine, Island Girl (photo from the Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Since 2007 the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Project (SCPP) has satellite-tracked some of the longest migrating peregrines in the Western Hemisphere.  Tagged at their wintering grounds on the coast of Chile, these peregrines have shown amazing stamina as they travel back and forth from Chile’s coast to the tundra cliffs of northern Canada.

Over the years the project has tracked 13 birds but now only “Island Girl,” pictured above, has a working transmitter.  First tagged in 2009 she’s provided many years of data.

In the screenshot below SCPP mapped her 2009-2013 north and south migrations.  As you can see she changes her route a bit year to year and season to season.  Heading south (red) she prefers to fly the shortest route to Chile, often across the Gulf of Mexico.  On her way north (blue) she travels by land and arcs across central Canada.  Click on the screenshot to see Island Girl’s combined 5-year map and explore her routes.

5-year map of arctic peregrine -- Island Girl -- migration routes (map from Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Winter comes early to the Arctic so Island Girl began her southward journey this month, leaving her Baffin Island home on September 17.  By the time she roosted last night she’d already traveled 1,478 miles and was spotted by satellite at Vandeleur, Ontario just west of Eugenia Lake.

Where will she go today?

Click here for Island Girl’s Tracking Page, then drill into a date on the right to see her latest location.  Zoom the map to see the data points or click here for detailed location maps.

Follow an arctic peregrine as she migrates over North America on her way to Chile.  Go, Island Girl!

 

(photo and map from the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Peregrine Project.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Sep 19 2014

Volunteers Count!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at Tarentum (photo by Steve Gosser)

When a bird is on the Endangered Species List wildlife biologists pay a lot of attention to it.  When it’s de-listed funding dries up and official monitoring wanes.  How can we know a “recovered” species is doing well without official monitoring?  Volunteers count!  California’s peregrine falcons are a case in point.

This month in ESA’s Ecological Applications, Tim Wootton and Doug Bell compare California’s current peregrine population to the prediction they made in 1992.  In the process they highlight the value of dedicated volunteers.

Peregrine falcons were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970 after they went extinct in eastern North America. By 1975 the U.S. had only 159 breeding pairs so wildlife agencies in many states established reintroduction programs to raise chicks in captivity for release in the wild.  California was one of them.

By 1992 California’s reintroduction program was so successful that state wanted to end the program.  Would the peregrine population falter without human assistance?  That year in Ecological Applications Wootton and Bell published a population viability analysis that predicted the future peregrine population with and without the reintroduction program.  It looked like peregrines would be OK on their own.

Fast forward to 2014.  How are California’s peregrines doing?  Was the model right?

Wootton and Bell ran the analysis again but found that peregrine studies were hard to come by.  “The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing.  There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.”

Enter the volunteers!  Wooton and Bell calibrated data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Surveys to the few intensive surveys done by wildlife biologists.  Interestingly, the Christmas Bird Count provided the best data.  “The greater number of ‘eyes on the skies’ in the Christmas Bird Count was key to obtaining a reliable sampling of the rare peregrines … Mustering many observers lowers the likelihood of undercounting rare birds.”

So how are California’s peregrines doing in 2014?

In 1992 the authors predicted that northern California would perform best because there were some population “sinks” in Southern California where the birds didn’t do well.  Thanks to volunteers, 2014’s analysis finds that though the population is lower than hoped for it’s well within the recovery trajectory.

Volunteers, give yourselves a pat on the back!  Your bird counts make a difference.

Read more about the study here in Science Daily.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Aug 12 2014

Dorothy Is Challenged

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy flies in to roust a challenger, 10 Aug 2014 (photo by Peter Bell)

On Sunday afternoon I received a text from Peter Bell, “Intruder at Pitt. On about 4th floor windowsill of Union.  Dorothy and E2 are at top corners angrily e-chupping and diving.”

I live only 10 minutes away so I hopped in the car and went over to see.

As I waited for the light at Schenley Plaza I saw a solo peregrine flying eastward over Posvar Hall.  I surmised that I’d missed them and I was right.  Peter was waiting on the corner to fill me in.

Returning from a weekend trip, he’d gotten off the airport bus near Pitt’s Student Union and immediately heard unusual peregrine sounds.  Peter looked up to see three peregrines on the building.  Two angry birds had claimed the high ground.  The third was in an uncomfortable spot on the 4th floor windowsill.

Peter happened to have his camera so he fired off as many shots as possible while the action unfolded.  Ultimately Dorothy zoomed in and chased off the third bird (shown above).  I arrived in time to see E2 bringing up the rear.  Click on the photo to watch a slideshow of the action.

August seems an unusual time for an intruder but I know why she’s here.  Dorothy is 15 years old and has many physical challenges.  In March she laid only one egg, then became egg-bound.  She survived by expelling the malformed egg, then started to molt early.  Three months later Dorothy still looks very ragged, a sign that she’s not in good condition.

On camera at the nestbox she exhibits “tired” behavior.  After 13 years of watching her, I now see her pausing in new postures as if she aches.  In the slideshow the intruder looks sleek and nimble.  Dorothy does not.  Dorothy is challenged in more ways than one.

Under these circumstances, it’s obvious to other peregrines that Dorothy is not at the top of her form.  Wandering female peregrines will try their chances to win the site.  Sunday’s challenger flew away but she, or another, will be back.  Dorothy will chase again but at some point a new female will return to the Cathedral of Learning and Dorothy will not.

This is not unusual or “terrible” activity.  Chases and fights are the normal, natural way that peregrines insure strong birds own every site and produce healthy young peregrines for the future. Old humans fade away slowly, surrounded by family (or not).  Old peregrines go out with a bang.

We are privileged to watch and learn.

 

(photos by Peter Bell)

p.s.  Peter saw in his photos that the intruding female is banded.  He couldn’t read the band but the colors are Black/Red.

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