Thursday, May 26, 2016

Transitioning to Flight

Peregrines begin flying at about 40 days of age.  The actual time to fledge can be more or less depending on the circumstances and/or an individual bird's development (males develop faster than females and typically fledge earlier than female nest mates).  At any rate, we are approaching the time in the nesting cycle that the young peregrines will soon transition from nestlings to fledglings.

All of the young are the same size as the adults at this point.  The main difference is they may actually weigh a little more, having just been "ledge potatoes" up until this point, eating and growing and eating more (vs. the adults that are active and spending most of their time hunting for the chicks as well as themselves).  Their plumage is also different from the adults--the chicks have the trademark brown juvenile feathering that includes brown/creamy vertical streaking on their chest.  Adults have the blue/gray backs, a light breast and horizontal streaking on their chest.

The main "job" of a pre-fledgling falcon is to practice flapping, running and getting lift.  Here is a video of some exercising activity on the ledge.  Note in the video that one of the young falcons starts off on top of the nest box. Hopefully, they will take their time and spend the next several days practicing and building up their flight muscles before actually leaving the ledge.  The ideal first flight is a calculated exit from the ledge but it can happen that a young falcon is knocked off the ledge (or falls off) in a wind gust, from simple loss of balance when standing too near to the edge or in a tussle over food with a nest mate.  We've seen all of these scenarios happen over the years at this site.

Regardless of the reason of leaving the ledge, all of the falcons have the "equipment" they need to fly and flapping is pure instinct.  What is the hardest part with the initial flights is getting the hang of how to use the equipment they have--how to steer, how to glide, how to lose or gain speed and altitude and otherwise maneuver.  It can be a sharp learning curve regarding landing - honing the above skills as well as figuring out what surfaces are good and easy to land on vs. not.  And don't forget all of the glass downtown that reflects sky that can be extremely confusing to a young, inexperienced peregrine.  City environments do present unique dangers that a wilderness cliff nest may not, but the urban habitats also have their perks in the way of abundant food, warmth and people on the ground watching out for them should they happen to end up on the ground.

Downtown workers and viewers are encouraged to send in photos (Wildinfo@dnr.state.oh.us) documenting fledging.  We will post updates here as we become aware of happenings!

Monday, May 23, 2016

5 Weeks

A few days can make a BIG difference!  Coming up on their 5 week mark, all of the chicks are now looking more brown as their juvenile feathers grow in.  At the same time, the white fluffy down is being shed and they are able to get to the upper ledge.  The next several days will see them practicing flapping, hopping and jumping, etc.  This is the period when many viewers bite their nails in fear that one of the chicks may go off the ledge prematurely...

While, that is always a possibility (especially when the chicks may lunge for food, or when they get to "pushing and shoving" each other, or they happen to be too close to the edge when a big gust of wind blows through) luckily at this nest site that hasn't happened.  And, if it does, hopefully, the chick would be feathered enough to have a soft landing.

Peregrines generally take their first flights at about 40 days old.  Counting forward from the first hatch (April 19) that takes us to later this holiday weekend.  It is generally the males that fledge first as they are smaller than the females.  We don't have the exact make up of this clutch but do suspect perhaps 3 females and 1 male.  Hopefully, all will wait until after the Memorial Day holiday to begin to fly.  We'll post more information on fledging later this week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

4 Weeks

This year is the exception in that the nest box cam has been further doused with feces almost completely obscuring the view.  My theory is that the extremely cool weather recently has kept the chicks in the nest box more than they typically would be at this age.  Unfortunately, due to their age (4 weeks now) and their mobility, we cannot access the ledge therefore, the front of the camera won't be able to be cleaned again.  With the chicks still being primarily white and downy, they are pretty hard to see when they are inside the nest box!  But, it won't be long until their brown juvenile feathers come in more and that will make them more visible through the "fog".
For now, their white color does make them very visible when they are venturing out and down the lower ledge:
The ledgecam shows the view from east to west including the nest box at the far west end of the ledge.  Here is a photo that shows the ledge looking from the nest box (west) towards the ledgecam (east):
As you can see, there is quite a stretch of lower ledge space for them to explore--total length is more or less about 20 feet!  I often get asked about the dark mound in the center of the lower ledge (visible in both views).  This is a metal grate over a drain.
The next milestone (besides juvenile feathering) will be when the first chick makes it up to the upper ledge...stay tuned...!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Q&A For Inquiring Minds

Well, the nest box camera lens was clean for most of a day--!  It is now again a somewhat foggy view having been hit with excrement a couple more times since we cleaned it on Tuesday morning.  The good news is that the chicks are becoming more and more mobile each day and the less time they spend inside the nest box, the less likely they are to defecate on the camera.  With that, some questions/comments from viewers:

With the nest box camera being hit each year with excrement, why do we not change the location of the camera?  Why not have it above the birds looking down into the nest?
One of the things that makes the Columbus Peregrine FalconCam one of the most popular nests to watch is our high resolution cameras and the views of the nest they provide.  Having the nest box camera looking right into the nest box puts the viewer at eye-level with the falcons.  This perspective seems to be the most pleasing and interesting but the downside is that it does put the front of the camera at risk for being pooped on.  Think about the perspective if the camera was above the nest looking down over the birds.  Sure, that would still provide an interesting view into the nest but it wouldn't compare to being on the same level as the birds.  So, we keep the camera where it is and accept the fact that there will be some limitations of view once the chicks start pooping on the front of the camera.  We first installed the cameras in 1996 so we'll stick with the system that has worked pretty good and remained popular for ~20 years.

Why are there so many adult feathers inside the nest box?
The majority of the feathers that can be seen inside the nest box now are remains of prey items.  The adults do molt in summer so we usually find a peregrine feather or two inside the box when we clean it out in fall, however, mostly the adults shed their feathers out and about, away from the nest.  But, because at this point in the nesting cycle the adults are bringing in prey several times a day and often are plucking it on the ledge, there are many odd feathers floating about from all of the various bird species they consume.

Where are the young when they are not inside of the nest box/are they in danger of falling off the ledge?
As the young become more mobile it is normal for them to explore their nest ledge.  Here is a photo of the layout of the ledge around the nest box to help show where the chicks may be when they are not in view of the camera:
The chicks spend a lot of time on the "porch" in front of the nest box and will venture up and down the length of the lower ledge.  This morning, during some exploration, one of the chicks hopped up onto the block next to the box:
Because of the several inch difference between the upper (where the adults land when they fly in) and the lower ledge, the chicks are not in danger of falling off the ledge.  In fact, it should be several more days before they can get up to the upper ledge level.  In the near future we can expect to see them further away from the nest box on the lower ledge.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Three Weeks - Update on Banding

Here's a picture from late last week "before" the camera housing got doused with excrement:  A nice shot of a feeding showing how the chicks are growing.  It is even hard to tell which one was the last hatched now!
And a photo "after" - there is now a blurry haze we have to look though since the nestlings have defecated further on the front of the camera housing.  But, at least for now the obstruction is somewhat uniform and the entire view is not blocked.
The chicks will be 3 weeks old this week.  Three weeks old is when we typically have banded the chicks in past years.  During the banding we usually take the opportunity to clean the front of the camera housing since we are out on the ledge anyway.  This year the chicks will not be banded but we will use the same window of time to go out on to the ledge to clean the camera front before they get much older.

Why no banding?
As was announced last year, 2015 was the final year for banding of peregrine falcon chicks in Ohio.  The background for the decision is based on the status of the population.  The peregrine population has recovered to the point that they are no longer an endangered species.  The main goal of banding any species is done for research purposes—to help track migrations, longevity and productivity, etc.  This information is very helpful when a species is in peril to identify areas of weaknesses that maybe can be addressed through conservation efforts.  When the population of a species is stable then there is less of a need for that type of information.  And, while we do our best to make the banding process as safe as possible, there is always still a risk whenever we have our hands on a wild animal that something may go wrong.  Finally, there is staff time involved in the banding process which adds costs to the project.  All that being said and all factors taken into consideration, it was decided that the return/benefit of banding the chicks in Ohio was no longer justified in continuing the effort.  This long explanation is more easily summed up by simply stating it is actually good news that the peregrine population is doing so well that we do not need to micro manage them (including banding) as in the past. 
The discontinuation of banding and the positive upturn of the population and the fact that peregrines are no longer a listed (endangered or threatened) species does not mean that they are aren’t going to be protected or monitored.  They will have continued State and Federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and we will continue to monitor their productivity and status, just less intensively as we’ve done the past 20+ years.  Continued monitoring and protections will ensure that, if the population were to begin to decline again for whatever reason, it would be noticed sooner than later and conservation efforts could be enacted to reverse that trend, if/when needed.
Aside from the biology, looking at the Education and Awareness aspects of the project, no longer banding may detract some from the project for some viewers.  Part of the allure of watching the species via cameras is the identification of individuals through leg bands and knowing how old they are and where they were hatched from.  Over time, as fewer and fewer peregrines are banded (not only in Ohio but in other states as well) we will begin to see more individuals show up at territories that can’t be identified because they will not have a leg band code.  This happens occasionally now but will become more common and it is possible that some viewers may lose interest because they can’t identify with an individual bird.  Hopefully, this will be minimal as just the chance to watch the nesting events unfold live is still a unique and enthralling opportunity.
We have been back and forth with continuing to involve school children in the naming process without banding.  The way that we have named the falcons at the Columbus nest has been a very powerful and worthwhile educational tool.  By involving an entire school in the naming contest, all of the students learn about wildlife conservation and they in turn go home and educate their parents, grandparents, neighbors, etc. etc.  It has worked out extremely well in the past to have the winning kids attend the banding of “their” falcon as part of the prize of submitting a winning name.  Unfortunately, without banding and being able to identify individuals as they develop in the nest and fledge, the act of naming will be lost.  We will discontinue the naming contest but attempt to work with schools in other ways to continue our educational efforts.
So while there are some changes to be expected as the project evolves into the future, we hope that everyone can maintain that the reasons behind the changes are actually very positive for the species as a whole.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Two Weeks

The nestlings will be 2 weeks old this week.  Viewers have noticed quite a size difference between the first 3 hatched and the last to hatch.  In most birds of prey, including peregrines, the females are larger than the males.  It is very possible that in this nest, the first 3 to hatch are female and the last to hatch is a male.  The difference in sex and the few days difference in when the eggs hatched could account for the marked difference. The bulge under their chins are full crops.  Their skin is gray and with only a few feathers, once the crop is full and expands to show bare skin, it really can look strange!
They are also beginning to get mobile and over the weekend, walked over to in front of the camera giving a close up view.  
Here's a nice video of a feeding that shows how the smallest chick maneuvered into a better position to get fed, too.  And, as discussed last post, the inside of the nest box continues to get very messy...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Power Outage + The Scoop on Poop

Note for weekend viewers:  there are scheduled power outages at the Rhodes Tower this weekend that may affect the live streaming.  Outages may turn off the computers that provide the video to the website.  If that happens, the computers need to be physically rebooted in order to resume the streaming.  We do have a person on-call in the building to handle the reboot, but if something more should be required it is possible the streaming will be off until Monday morning.  We certainly hope that won't be the case but just wanted to make sure viewers were aware of the possibility.  If that does happen we will be working first thing Monday to get the videos back up and running.

On another note, cooler weather since mid-week has put Durand back into full brooding mode, except with the chicks growing fast, she is not able to cover them as completely as when they were smaller.  But as they get older they aren't as vulnerable to being chilled and by all huddling together they help to keep each other warm also.

Now the scoop on poop:  (Caution:  some content beyond this point may not be suitable for all audiences!)
Most people are used to watching a common songbird nest such as an American robin in a backyard tree or shrub.  Well, did you know that for those types of birds when they defecate, it is in the form of a fecal "sac" - that is, the fecal material is contained within a membrane that makes it easy for the adult bird to pick up the poop and carry it away for disposal elsewhere, so it does not contaminate the nest.
This is done when the nestlings are very young.  As the nestlings grow they develop the strength and motor skills to position themselves so they can defecate up and over the rim and thus, outside of the nest.  This system helps to keep a songbird nest relatively clean of feces while the young birds grow.

In the case of peregrine chicks, they position themselves to defecate away from the scrape.  When they are very small they are generally facing in towards each other so their waste naturally is away from the scrape.  As they grow and gain more strength, they will specifically turn away from the scrape.  As they get older still, the propulsion of the feces increases (as does the amount and frequency!) and it is then we can begin to see evidence of it inside the nest box.
Here is a photo I just saved this morning and already there is a noticeable splattering of feces on the back wall of the nest box.  As the nesting season progresses, the inside walls of the nest box will literally become caked with fecal material.  Veteran viewers will remember that we can expect the chicks to hit the front of the nest box camera housing at some point, which usually obscures the view from that camera. So, there is probably more than you thought you were going to learn in one day about "avian feces management"!

One final note, there is a Civil War Encampment on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse today that will include regular cannon firings.  Viewers may hear the cannon blasts via the live streaming but shouldn't be alarmed.  The loud noise to the falcons is no different than a clap of thunder during a storm.