Thursday, December 01, 2016

Musings of Meanderings

As we transition into winter there still has been no sign of the previous resident male, Spark.  The "new" male, 30/Z continues to dominate the territory but I'll stress again that it is too soon to tell if he plans on staying around permanently or if Columbus is just his chosen place to spend the winter.

Longtime fans might recall in 2003-05 we saw a migrant female (Y/5) "claim" the territory during the winter months for each of those years but come spring, she would leave for another territory in parts unknown.  Every year after she left Columbus a different female (Victory) assumed the territory during each of those nesting seasons.  It was during the 3rd winter in Columbus (2005) that Y/5 met her demise by hitting a window.  The loss was unfortunate, of course, but the plus side was we finally had the bird in hand and were able to confirm through her leg band codes that she had originally been banded in Quebec!  Where she nested after she left Columbus each of those years will always be a mystery but this recount illustrates the nomadic nature of these birds and how they "wander" as their Latin name Falco peregrinus implies.  And, that they can and do sometimes spend winters in different territories other than in which they nest.

Continuing on this wandering theme, I was recently going back through my inbox and came across an email I had received about a peregrine observation at the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute on The Ohio State University campus.  The sighting was in late September and included a photograph.  Interestingly, the observation almost has to be 30/Z based on the bird having only one (color) leg band and as much as is visible, the code certainly could be 30/Z!  This report shows that before he came to settle in downtown Columbus in early October, this new "mystery male" spent some time at OSU (about 2 1/2 miles north of the Rhodes Tower-as the peregrine flies)!
Coming back to the present, both Durand and 30/Z continue to interact in and around the nest ledge.  The past few days the male has spent some time perched on top of the nestbox, and here is a video of the falcons bonding.  Finally, thanks to Mike Horn for sharing this photo of the pair with prey on the LeVeque Tower from November 16:
One final note on meanderings - it is not uncommon for Cooper's hawks to be seen in and around the downtown area, in fact, earlier today I was contacted about a dead Cooper's hawk that was found on the Huntington Building downtown. Cooper's hawks are often confused with peregrines (ID information here) so it happens often that I get these types of reports.  Like peregrines, some Cooper's hawks live in Ohio all year but some are migrants.  A few weeks ago a separate report of a dead Cooper's hawk downtown involved the hawk having a leg band. A check of the band database revealed that individual Cooper's hawk had been banded in 2014 in Ontario, Canada!
Cooper's hawk

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Out With the Old, In With the New-Nest Site Maintenance

With the changing seasons comes changes to the peregrine nest site on the 41st floor of the Rhodes State Office Tower. Every year wildlife biologists take the opportunity during the "off season" to conduct routine maintenance in preparation for the next year's nesting season.  This maintenance usually involves a new coat of paint on the nest box and replacing the old nesting material (gravel) with new. This year we decided that some other upgrades were needed.
Old nest box with last season's "mess"

We started with the easiest project first, 2 weeks ago we put a new platform in front of the ledge camera. The old one was starting to show its age. The ledge platform is useful to help read leg band codes when the peregrines perch next to the ledge camera.  

The second phase of off season maintenance was to install a brand new nest box. The previous box was the original and had been in place since 1991! After a morning's worth of work last week, a new nest box was put in place that will hopefully be productive for the next 25 years...!

New nest box in place.  Some additional minor repairs and touch up will be done prior to next season.

Some history being hauled away - this old nest box raised ~45 young peregrines
over the years! The first successful nest at this site fledged 3 in 1994. 
While we were working on the nest ledge we found various remains of the different food sources the peregrines have feasted on. We found the skull of a woodcock and the leg band of a racing pigeon.  We tracked the pigeon band number to a club in Herman, Pennsylvania!  

Peregrines are often incorrectly labeled as being useful to control nuisance pigeon populations. While peregrines will hunt pigeons, for the most part, resident pigeons in urban areas become wise to the presence of the resident peregrines and tend to avoid the predators so both species coexist in the same area.  But a racing pigeon flying through the area is clueless to the potential threat.  Peregrines are opportunistic predators and will prey on whatever bird species are easily available, which sometimes includes an unwary racing pigeon.   
Racing pigeon leg band in nest box

Monday, October 24, 2016

New Male Identified!

Thanks to fans in POLAND and MARYLAND (yes, many people outside of Ohio and outside the USA enjoy the Columbus FalconCam!) we have an ID on the new male that has been lurking:
The color band is black/red 30/Z.  What has been a mystery up until now, is this male does not have the USFWS (USGS) band!  Only the color band.  Typically, peregrines are banded with both types of bands and even if they would only be banded with one band, it would be the USFWS (USGS) band. So we have been wondering why it doesn't have the other band and now that we have positive ID, we know.

This peregrine was banded in 2014 in Bowling Green, Ohio.  It is a male but was banded as a female! Female peregrines are much larger than the males and thus are fitted with larger size leg bands.  When the chicks are banded at about 3 weeks of age, gender is determined by the size of the nestling.  More times than not, an accurate determination of the sex can be made but evidently, at least in this case this individual falcon was thought to be a female and thus was fitted with the larger size band.  At some point in time, the USFWS (USGS) band must have slipped off over the foot, leaving only the color band to identify this individual.  This is very rare and luckily, the band was lost without injury to the falcon.

As an adult, 30/Z does appear to be larger than the average male.  Here is a photo of 30/Z and Durand bonding in the nest box (male on the left) and he really isn't that much smaller than the female, at least from this view.
So with this exciting news, unfortunately, there is still no sign of Spark.  But we won't know for sure which male will maintain this territory until nesting season gets underway early next year.  For now I will reiterate that this male could just be here as a migrant just as Spark could have migrated elsewhere as well. Only time will tell...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Spark MIA? New Male?

Fans have reported the possibility of a new male in the downtown Columbus territory and concern over the lack of sightings of the resident male, Spark.  The lack of observations of Spark are not necessarily cause for concern at this time of the year.  Courtship and nesting occur in late winter into spring and outside of this time frame some peregrines do migrate (remember that the Latin name for peregrine means “wanderer”).

So it is possible that Spark has migrated out of the area and in his absence another male is investigating the territory.  There are any number of falcons out there (called “floaters”) that do investigate territories as they can, especially during migration.  These floaters can be unmated falcons or falcons with a territory that just happen to be migrating (perhaps Spark is investigating another territory wherever he may be?).

It is also possible that the other male came into the territory and battled Spark for it.  In that case, the lack of sightings of Spark would indicate that the new male was the victor.  However, most territorial battles occur between females and the lack of this other male’s assertiveness in accessing the ledge (and lack of witnesses downtown of such an altercation) would imply that a territorial battle did not occur.

Peregrines maintain the same mate from year to year but quickly find a replacement when/if something happens to one of the pair.  Therefore, the current situation may just be a case of when the cat’s away (Spark), the mice (Durand and the new male) will play-so to speak!!  The birds have no loyalty to a mate if the mate is not present.  Having the cameras running even in the “off season” definitely helps us see more of what goes on. But don’t forget, the downtown territory is large and the cameras only show about 25 feet of ledge space.  Therefore, a lot of the daily action and interactions of the peregrines can and does go on outside of our view.

Our role is to watch and learn and note what players we have when nesting season comes around again early 2017.  Any photos confirming leg bands on a peregrine that is not Durand (or a peregrine lacking leg bands) will be helpful in tracking which male(s) are confirmed in the territory.
To review, Durand's leg bands are:  right:  silver USGS band; left:  black/black 32/X
Spark's leg bands are:  right:  purple USGS band; left:  black/red 32/B
Only time will tell if Spark or the mysterious visitor--or another male altogether--will be the resident male next year.  As information becomes available, it will be shared here.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Dog Days of Summer

It has been a pretty quiet summer with occasional sightings of falcons at the nest ledge.  Just in recent days, Durand and Spark have been checking in to reinforce their bond to the site and to each other by scraping in the gravel and vocalizing inside of the nest box.
Spark working on the nest scrape
The last observation of one of the juveniles at the ledge was late July.  They are now independent of the adults, fully capable of hunting on their own and likely have departed the Columbus area for locations unknown.  It is the hope they will survive and eventually establish a territory of their own. 

Now that we are into late summer we'll be making arrangements to maintain the nest box (new gravel and paint) before winter sets in.  We may also look into new cameras but are most hopeful for a new computer to run the streaming software.  More news at that time unless something notable happens in the meantime!


Friday, June 24, 2016

Spotted: Juvenile Falcon Enjoying a Tasty Treat

Special guest blog update from intern Madyson Epperson:
Since our last update, it has been fairly calm at the nest ledge. All is presumed to be well! The FalconCams have been relatively quiet, as have been the reports and sightings of the falcons. However a sighting was reported earlier this week and along with it a few photos. A juvenile falcon is seen here on the LeVeque Tower having a pigeon for an early morning breakfast! You can tell it is a juvenile due to the vertical streaking on its chest and overall brown coloration of the head and body. A big thank you to Mike Horn for sharing these photos with us!

While preparing this blog post yesterday morning, we received a report that one of the juveniles was possibly grounded near State & High Streets and might not have been able to get back up in the air. Donna and I loaded the rescue equipment into the van and made a trip downtown to check everything out! Upon investigation, the falcon was nowhere to be found, although several people working in the area had seen it on the sidewalk. 
After we got back to the office, Donna received an email from a concerned citizen who was generous enough to send some photos from earlier in the morning when the falcon was first seen, confirming it was in fact, one of the juvenile falcons.  In the photos the falcon looked healthy and did not seem to be injured.   It is our hope that it had been only temporarily grounded while possibly chasing its prey and that it was then able to get back up in the air! 
If you are downtown hoping to see the peregrines, it is often easier to locate them by listening for the screeching of the juveniles while watching the sky for mock chases and fights between the young and adults! 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Back on the Ledge-Then Gone Again!

As we hoped in last week's update, the falcon that was grounded and in rehab for observation checked out okay and was returned to the ledge earlier today.  Due to the yellow feet and small overall size, we believe it to be the youngest falcon of the clutch--the one that hatched last.
Here's Karen with the falcon, (who was quite feisty!):
And preparing to set it outside the access door onto the ledge:
Even though it was well fed, after its release it promptly found some leftover prey on the ledge and ate.  It spent about 2 hours on the ledge flapping, looking around, and screeching.  An adult landed on the ledge briefly twice.  Then, a little before 1 pm, off it flew!  Let's hope this bird does well from here on out and thanks to the Glen Helen Raptor Center for taking care of this peregrine during its brief down time.