Thursday, May 29, 2008

Two weeks old

The chicks are doing well and are now two weeks old. The "foggy smudge" on the left side of the camera lens is falcon feces - as I indicated in an earlier post expect the nest box to get much dirtier. Next week at banding we'll clean the lens while we're out on the ledge. Thanks to Juanita for providing a view of the chicks at this stage.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You can help choose names for the nestlings!

Names for falcon chicks are selected different ways for the different nests around Ohio. Here in Columbus we use a process that involves school children. First, we choose a local school (usually one that is certified as a WILD School Site) to hold a "contest" for the falcon names. Students in the school submit names. Generally we request names not be human names, they be gender-neutral and represent the majesty and power of a peregrine falcon. From there the list of names is narrowed down by a panel of local wildlife enthusiasts. The pool of names is then put on our website for the public to decide the final outcome.

This year's school is Hartford Elementary School in Licking County. Hartford Elementary was certified as a WILD School Site last May and was actually set up to hold the contest last year except that the eggs didn't hatch in 2007. So, we lined things up with them again this year. From over 100 names our panel** has narrowed the choices to 12. A web poll will be available starting tomorrow on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's website for all the falconcam fans out there to cast their vote. The poll will accept one vote per IP address per day. The top 4 names with the most votes will be used. Classrooms with one computer that are following the Columbus falcons will have to decide as a group which name to vote for. The web poll will remain up for about a week.

Names will be "assigned" to the young falcons at banding on Wednesday, June 4. The students who submitted the winning names will be invited to attend the banding. At this time we hope to broadcast the banding on our website via the live streaming video. More details to come as we finalize plans.

**The 2008 panel included: Larry Mixon, Sr. (a member of the Ohio Wildlife Council, the 8-member board appointed by the Governor that approves all Division of Wildlife proposed rules and regulations), John Switzer (columnist for The Columbus Dispatch), Tom Sheley (owner, Wild Birds Unlimited) and Dan Huss (Division of Wildlife District One Manager).

Chicks alone a lot today

These birds really grow fast. A little over a week old and already they've grown such that Scout has a hard time fitting them all underneath her when she broods them. Their growth progress, combined with somewhat warmer temps in Columbus today, has resulted in less need for her to keep them covered. So today they've been left alone for a stretch and we've gotten a good look at the "huddle." They spend a lot of time leaning on each other which also helps to keep them warm.

They aren't too mobile yet but have definitely gravitated to the right side of the box (as we are looking in) mainly because that's where the food comes from! It'd be a better view if they were closer to the camera but in the long run it's actually better if they keep their distance from the cam. Why's that you ask? In order to relieve themselves, they put their rumps up into the air and shoot their feces as far away from the nest as they can. If you haven't noticed yet, the back wall of the nest box is starting to accumulate feces and it's only a matter of time before the camera gets the same treatment!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Orville taking a rest

While Scout's been busy keeping the chicks warm with the unusually cool weather we've been having in Columbus, Orville's been supplying food for the nestlings. Even though there are 4, at this young age they don't eat much so there's still some down time. Orville was taking advantage of a nice sunny day by loafing on the ledge in front of the camera! It is quite normal for peregrines to lie down like this. In past years it has happened that after the young fledged one usually ends up on another downtown window ledge lying down just like this. I've had frantic callers watching out their window thinking the bird must certainly be hurt because it was lying down. Not necessarily!!!

The chicks are one week old this week! One thing I'd like folks to notice, too, is how clean the nest box has been. I'll do a comparison later in the nestling phase that will show a dramatic different picture! But for now, the walls and the camera lens are nice and clean!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What about that littlest falcon chick?

Many have noted one of the chicks is smaller than the others and sometimes is not being fed. It is normal for there to be varying sizes between the chicks. Some possible reasons:
Male vs. female: female peregrines are larger than males and this size difference is even apparent at banding time. The difference in size is so dramatic that the males are fitted with a smaller size leg band!

Age: the last to hatch is simply the youngest. Let me clarify which egg was the last to hatch. I reread my update from when the 4th egg hatched and realized that I implied in the update that it was the first egg that was laid that hatched last. Even though that was the natural school of thought with everything playing out like it did, it is likely not the case. In retrospect, the first egg to hatch could have been the first egg that was laid.

How it works: the embryo only begins to develop when incubation begins full time. An unincubated egg is basically in "limbo" until consistent warmth from the incubating adult allows it to begin to develop. Usually, when peregrine eggs are laid in a normal time frame of 1 egg every 2-3 days with incubation beginning after the last (or next to last) egg is laid the period of limbo for the first egg might be 6-9 days for a clutch of 4. It was unusual this year that 8 days passed between the first egg and the 2nd which stretched the "limbo" period out even longer for that first egg. But, when you consider the nesting habits of a mallard duck, the period of laying can stretch out for quite some time: one egg every day or so times as many as 15 eggs in a clutch before incubation begins = a long time! So, looking back, it maybe isn't as much of a surprise that all 4 eggs hatched after all. As long as it doesn't cook or freeze, an egg can remain viable for a long period. (This was a lot of explanation to make the point that the first egg laid several days prior to the rest of the cluth did not necessarily result in the "runt of the litter!")

So, if there is a smallest chick, which egg did it come out of then? Hard to say for sure and it really doesn't matter as we now look at whether or not the little one is getting fed enough:
It is normal for there to be chicks more aggressive than others. At feeding time it happens that usually the bigger, more aggressive nestlings get fed first and the smaller one(s) might not get fed or fed as much. But, once the aggressive one(s) are full then they aren’t as pushy and the smaller one(s) get fed first the next feeding. Then, the next time after that the aggressive one(s) are hungry again and they get fed first again. In the big picture it usually ends up working out pretty even.

But, sometimes there can and will be problems. That’s one disadvantage of having the cams is that we see a LOT more of what normally goes on. Having a front row seat to mother nature can be exciting, educational and sometimes upsetting all at the same time. Luckily, things seem to be going very well with the Columbus nest and all four chicks look good!

P.S. We've gotten a lot of positive response from my post last week reminding folks that the Ohio Division of Wildlife's peregrine falcon management is funded by donations. Thanks to everyone for your support!!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Live, Streaming Video back up!!!

As of 2:30 p.m., Friday, May 16th both views (nestbox and ledge) are available again via the live, streaming video!!! Enjoy!!!

Update on streaming video

I have some tentative good news: With the recent crash of the nestbox streaming video combined with the troubles with the ledgecam streaming video we have decided to abandon our partnership with the outside company I have referred to in past updates. We are now working to transfer the streams to the host provider we used when we initially set up the live video feed in late 2006.

What this means to the FalcanCam viewer--hopefully, more reliable service! What this means to the Division of Wildlife--cost. One benefit of the most recent partner was they were providing the service for free. The Division of Wildlife will now have to pay for the service but hopefully this will ensure much less "down-time."

Now time for the shameless plug: I couldn't pass up this great opportunity to remind viewers that the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Peregrine Falcon Project, including the Columbus FalconCam is funded by donations to our Wildlife Diversity Fund. There are many ways to contribute to this fund whether you are in Ohio or beyond. You can find complete information about online donations, wildlife conservation license plates and other methods of contributing on the Division of Wildlife's website. We certainly hope everyone will consider donating and Ohio residents will sport the cardinal license plate on their vehicles!

We are optimistic that the live streaming will be restored under the new host provider later today. At this time we plan on keeping the paid host provider for the majority of this nesting season. Whether we offer the live streaming in the future is yet to be determined. For now let's hope that the transfer is quick and we can be back to watching the nest LIVE very soon. As always, we appreciate everyone's patience!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nestbox Video down

Sorry, but the streaming video for the nest box is temporarily experiencing technical difficulties! We think because of the amount of traffic (as an example, the number of people viewing this blog has risen from ~400 on Sunday to almost 5000 yesterday!).

We are aware that it is down and are working to get the site restored ASAP. In the meantime, don't forget the REFRESHED STILL IMAGES are operational so you can see what it happening at the nest. Thanks for your patience!

Surprise--There's FOUR!!!

Well, even though it seemed against the odds, the 4th egg did hatch! Scout and Orville have a full clutch of 4 chicks as of around 7 p.m. last night, 5/14/08. (Thanks to Mary Anne who sent this photo. It lacks the time/date stamp because she saved the image right from the streaming video .)

Everything looks great in the nest. Names will be submitted through a contest held at a local school. Next week a panel will narrow the list of names submitted down to a smaller group that will appear as a webpoll on our website - so, all the falconcam fans out there will be able to vote on their choice of the names for this year's Columbus falcon chicks. The kids who submit the names that ultimately win will be invited to the banding, date to be announced. Stay tuned...!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

3 chicks in the nest!

Two more eggs have hatched, one just before 9 p.m. last night and the other sometime overnight or early this morning! All looks good and Scout is getting the hang at feeding them:

I was finally able to post video clips from yesterday. The videos have varing degrees of distortion and it doesn't appear that the audio copied so there is room for improvement as I figure out the Camtasia and Google Video systems (keep in mind I'm a biologist, not a technology expert!). But, nonetheless it's fun to see and archive some of the early moments: 1st chick and 1st feed

What to expect from this point on? Scout (and Orville on occasion) will continue to brood the chicks to keep them warm but you'll notice she won't be sitting as tight as she did during incubation. Instead of 3 still objects under her she now has 3 squirming, wiggling chicks and keeping them warm will appear much different to the viewer than the incubation duty did! The brooding process will keep the 4th egg warm also so it is still possible the last egg will hatch. But, if the unhatched egg is the first egg laid we have our doubts. If it doesn't hatch it will eventually be cast aside and we'll remove it from the nest box at banding. By the way, the object on the ledge is a casting-a reguritated mass of undigested bones and feathers. Everyone is very happy that this nest looks to be progressing on a good note!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1st chick looks good

So far everything looks good at the nest. Scout has been doing a really great job brooding the chick while continuing to incubate the remaining eggs. (The bad part about her doing such a good job is we haven't had much opportunity to see the chick!) She has also brought in food but hasn't fed the chick yet, even with going through the motions. At one point I watched her bring in a plucked bird and vocalize to the chick which stimulated the chick to sit up and open its mouth. The only problem is Scout never leaned over close enough to the chick to actually feed it! (I saved a couple of video clips but am having trouble getting them to post...I'll share the link as soon as they are available.)

While this lack of feeding might concern some, keep in mind that even after hatching a chick has the remains of the yolk sac within its body to continue to nourish it for at least a day or two. Scout's lack of finesse with feeding could be due to her still being in incubation mode or simply a lack of experience. In either case, we can expect her to "step up" and "get it right" at any time!

Also, we apologize for the ledgecam video still being down. As you would expect (since it hasn't been fixed yet) the problem is beyond the control of the Division of Wildlife. The still photos of the ledge area are working and refreshing every 15 seconds.

1st egg HATCHED!!!

Columbus officially has a hatch! One of the first looks was had of a small, white, fluffy chick at 6:15 a.m. It's hard to tell for sure when during the overnight hours the chick actually hatched. In this photo at 6:15 the chick is already dried off and fluffy so it's been out of the egg for at least awhile. Interestingly, Falconcam fans continued to stay logged on to the streaming video last night after dark in order to listen even though no picture was visible via the video! They reported hearing chirps which was likely the chick vocalizing as it worked its way out of the egg.

Hopefully, more eggs will hatch today and tomorrow. A pip was reported in another egg but we've not been able to confirm that with a saved photo. Congratulations, Scout and Orville!!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Looks like a pip!

Just after 1 p.m. watchers noticed what looked like a pip in one of the eggs. This is the initial hole a chick makes in the egg as it begins its long process to hatch out. Shortly after this peek, Scout brought a prey item into the box. This is an example of how the behavior of the adults changes as the nest progresses. A hopeful assumption would be that the adults are aware that hatching is near (they can feel vibrations and hear noises from the eggs) and so their instincts adjust to the next step, i.e., feeding. Just a bit premature on Scout's part but nonetheless a very encouraging sign!

If there is indeed a pip, when can we expect hatch? As I write this Scout is asleep and tight on the eggs so we have to assume all is quiet under her again for now. It can take several hours for the chick to work its way out with a lot of rests in between attempts at progress. Optimistically I would like to say we'd have a chick yet today but it's more realistic for it to happen overnight or even tomorrow.

Thanks to Andrea from Akron for sending the photo. If the hatching process cooperates we hope to snag video of hatching and will post it! It all depends on the timing of hatch and if Scout lets us see!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nearing the home stretch!

I'm sure everyone knows by now that the ledgecam has been down this week. We are very optimistic that it will be restored tomorrow (Friday). Meanwhile, we continue to work with the outside partner assisting with the streaming video to help get that service to be more reliable-especially in that we anticipate hatch very soon. Know that folks within the Division of Wildlife are watching as closely as all of you are and in the event of a problem we will work to restore the site just as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that even if the streaming video is not working that the refreshed still images should still be available to follow the action.

Now that we are nearing the home stretch of incubation, many are very anxious to see if Columbus will have a successful hatch this year. Incubation takes around 33 days, however it is difficult to predict when the birds actually begin setting full time, especially this year with the delay between the first egg and the rest of the clutch. Counting from the date of the 4th egg (April 11), 33 days is Wednesday, May 14th, so that is when we predict hatching to occur. However, it isn't an exact science thus that prediction may be off by a few days. Don't be surprised if hatch begins earlier and don't panic if hatch is late! And, remember that the eggs won't all hatch at once - they usually hatch over a couple of days time.

Given that, here are some signs to help tell when hatch is close. A day or so prior to hatching the chicks will begin vocalizing from inside the egg and pecking to work their way out. The adult birds can hear the chirping and feel the vibration and so their behavior will change. While throughout the majority of incubation they have set tight on the eggs the incubating adult will become very restless. It will get up and look down at the eggs more often, settle back down, and be up looking again within a short time. There is a microphone inside the nest box (black circle in the upper right back corner). I can't say for sure if we will be able to hear the chicks chirping from inside the eggs with this mic, but it may be something to listen for.

After hatching the chicks will need to be kept warm so Scout will brood the hatchlings. This may look similar to incubation but she will actually be sitting up higher and may hold her wings out from her body more than we see during incubation.

Finally, keep in mind Scout's first clutch last year in 2007 was infertile. It is possible that some or all of the eggs may not hatch again this year. The fate of the first egg that was laid 8 days ahead of the second egg is especially questionable.

Let's hope for the best and enjoy watching the eggs hatch on live streaming video!