Monday, June 28, 2010

A Lot of Activity Today

Spirit (09/Y) was the juvenile that fledged this morning.

About 10 a.m. I received a call from Josh Williams from the Ohio Senate Office. He reported that a co-worker, Jason Phillips, noticed a peregrine just outside on a windowsill. He was able to give me the band number. The bird was not injured so I opted to capture her and place her back on the nest ledge. Thanks to Jason and Josh for taking notice and contacting me.

The capture happened without incident. I got back up to the 41st floor of the Rhodes Tower about 11 a.m. It is a bit tricky to put a falcon back out on the ledge when you know another fledgling is out there because you don't want to accidently cause the other bird to flush from the ledge. I looked out the door and saw Scout on top of the nestbox (squawking at full volume since she knew I was there!). At this point I had another potential danger: there was a chance that Scout would attack the bird as I put it back out. Scout wasn't about to leave so, I had to move slowly. I put Spirit in the doorway so she and Scout could see each other and simply closed the door. After a moment she hopped up on top of the nestbox with Scout. Mission accomplished successfully!

Fast forward to just after lunch. In the midst of trying to update the blog I got another call from downtown about a falcon on the sidewalk in front of the Rhodes Tower. Unfortunately this story doesn't end so well. It was Swoop (08/Y) and from reports it sounded like she was exercising on the ledge and then was gone from the ledge. Other accounts indicate she fell down to the ground with little or no flapping. As I have reported many times, flapping is instinctual so the fact that this bird came straight down would indicate there may have been another underlying issue. A necropsy will likely be done.

So, a busy day. Swoop's absence will be noticed much more by all of the fans out there watching than it will be by Scout and Trooper. They concentrate on what they see at the moment and so will focus all of their attention on Spirit. Hopefully she will be well fed and thus will wait to leave the ledge until she is good and ready.

Possible Fledge This Morning

I haven't gotten any concrete confirmation but a couple of reports indicate that one of the juveniles may have fledged earlier this morning. The accounts indicated that the bird was flapping near the edge and basically fell off the ledge while turning around. Since then only one chick has been observed on the ledge.

At this point they have all of the feathers necessary for flight. So, even if the "take off" wasn't deliberate, once over the edge the bird will instinctively flap. It is important at this point to try and get leg band codes via the ledgecam to help tell which bird(s) are on the ledge.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why No Peregrine Patrol?

I have gotten a few emails wondering why the Division of Wildlife is not organizing volunteers to help keep watch over the juveniles as they take their first flights as is done in a few other cities. Here's the scoop: Back when we were first hacking/releasing peregrines in the beginning stages of the Division’s peregrine program (~1988-90) we had an organized fledge watch (officially called Peregrine Patrol) since young birds were out on their own with no adult falcons to care for them and at that time the survival of each and every bird was crucial to contribute to the restoration effort. The project was also brand new and not many people downtown knew about peregrines, the program or would know what to do in the event of a downed falcon—if they would even recognize the bird to be a peregrine.

After the hacking portion of the project was complete and for the first few years that we had nesting peregrines in Columbus we continued the Peregrine Patrol (~1993-95). Over the years the species became more rooted and successful in Ohio. Nesting situations differ from hacking in that fledglings have experienced adults watching out for them. The population had recovered to the point that the survival of each and every bird was not as critical as in the beginning. Further, the knowledge of the program was much more known by folks working downtown thus, we have seen over the years that when there is a downed bird it doesn’t take long for the general person to recognize it as a peregrine and take the appropriate steps. Sometimes people may not know to contact the Division directly, but through our coordination with the Columbus Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol and downtown building managers they can usually get a hold of someone fairly quickly who does know who to call. Because of these factors and waning interest in watching during fledge we discontinued the organized volunteers-on-the-ground effort, i.e., Peregrine Patrol.

Each year at fledge I continue to alert select downtown building managers when the young are expected to start flying and provide basic instructions and emergency contact information should any of their building folks become aware of a downed peregrine. The word is out—the program is well-known—and many folks that work downtown are on alert and even if they don’t personally know what to do, they can usually find someone relatively quickly who does.

Over the past couple of years a few individuals have expressed interest in resurrecting a volunteer effort to watch from the street level. It never hurts to have extra eyes out there, however, the Division of Wildlife will not actively pursue organizing an effort for the reasons explained above. Even though this agency is not taking a lead role in organizing volunteers, we fully support the interest of individuals who do want to be out there and where appropriate I have provided direction on how to handle a "falcon emergency" as well as who to contact should intervention be necessary. Ohio's peregrine project continues great success throughout the state whether folks choose to watch via their computers or make a trip to watch birds at their local nest. We thank everyone for their interest!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

5 Weeks and Almost Ready to Fly

It is absolutely amazing that in 5 short weeks these birds can go from an egg to ready to fly. Most of the white down has been replaced with brown juvenile feathers. The nestlings are on the verge of becoming FLEDGLINGS!

Peregrines generally fledge at about 40 days of age. In general, female chicks tend to take their first flight a little later than males, probably since they are physically larger. The first flight could occur at any time now but I predict it will likely be the weekend before either makes a serious attempt.

As the birds get closer to flying you'll notice them doing a bit more practice flapping. They might even flap hard enough that they'll hover a couple of feet up over the ledge. A flight could occur by accident if a chick happens to be too close to the edge of the ledge and a gust of wind pushes it off or, if they are fighting over food and one happens to fall back during a tussle. Another scenario is lunging towards an adult flying by with food. At any rate, they have the necessary feathers they need so once there is nothing below them but air they will automatically start flapping.

Once airborne, flying is not the hard part. The tricky part for an inexperienced falcon is landing. The young birds will have to hone their skills of maneuvering: using their tail to steer, slowing down and most of all, learning what they can and cannot land on. Reflective windows pose one of the biggest problems because the birds will not be able to differentiate between what is a reflection of sky in a window and what is really sky. Consequently, we can expect the birds to hit windows during the first couple of days on the wing as they learn some important life lessons: keep in mind that bumps and bruises are a normal and necessary part of a peregrine learning to fly in the city. The adults will still provide food for a time but it won't take long after the young master flying that they start learning to hunt for themselves.

There are several ways we confirm the status of fledging. One way is by eye witness accounts-observers that are able to see either from the street or the falconcam. The view from the falconcam does give us a window to what is going on, but it also has its limitations--areas of the ledge that are not in view and other ledges on the building we cannot see. Another way we track is by leg band reports via the falconcam. These reports are extremely important at this time to confirm which falcons are still on the ledge and which leave but make their way back. Finally, we can also ascertain the status of a fledgling if/when a bird ends up on another building or somewhere else downtown where witnesses can confirm its ID by reading the leg band. (This year's bands are: o8/Y=Swoop; 09/Y=Spirit)

For the most part Scout and Trooper will be keeping track of the young where ever they land. The Division of Wildlife will only intervene if a falcon is seriously injured or winds up in a location that it cannot get out of. Many people downtown are familiar with the falcon project and so if/when a mishap occurs we are notified. Here's a nice photo to help us remember what was just a few short weeks ago:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another Milestone

This morning marks the first time one of the chicks has made it to the upper ledge! I know folks will be worrying about a chick falling off the ledge and/or being blown off by a gust of wind. That is certainly a possibility given the nature of a cliff-nesting bird. However, in 15 years of hosting nesting peregrines at this site it has never happened so while technically it is possible it could occur, I would categorize it as not probable. While we hope it does not happen, keep in mind that peregrine falcons have been successfully raising young on cliffs (natural and man-made) all over the world for centuries and the species has been successful despite certain inherent dangers of that type of habitat.

A couple of points of optimism about the situation:
1) at many other sites the layout of the ledge and nestbox/tray puts the chicks closer to the edge much sooner than here in Columbus. As I have explained in previous posts, the layout of our ledge keeps them further from the edge until they are older.
2) their feathers are coming in so quickly that it won't be long until the chicks have enough flight feathers that even if one should happen to go off the ledge prematurely, it should be able to flutter to the ground. And don't forget, a week from now we will be talking about them flying anyway!

Another common question is what is that blob in front of the ledgecam? It is a "casting" or in other words a mass of undigested bones and feathers that the falcons expel after eating. It is very similar to an owl pellet but is called by a different name.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

4 Week Mark

They are growing fast! Head to toe, their body size is now very close to that of an adult. But they have a long way to go in terms of muscle development, strength and feathers. As their wing feathers grow in, expect to see a lot of flapping to help build the muscles they will use in flight. Because they are mostly sedentary up until the time when they fly for the first time, while they might be the same size as an adult they are usually a bit heavier.
Here you can see the brown juvenile feathers are coming in.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Where are the Chicks?!

Well, part of the nestbox lens got hit with poo, thus the blurry right third of the picture. It is just as well though since the nestbox is empty more now than not because the chicks are mobile and venturing out on the lower part of the ledge.

I've gotten quite a few emails of concern asking if the chicks were "removed" from the box, or folks knowing they are outside and wondering if we "will we put them back in," etc. The chicks are at a normal stage in development where they start exploring their ledge. No one removed them-they are completely able to come and go as they please. And, there is no fear of them falling at this stage!! Looking at the ledge view you will notice that the nestbox sits down in a recessed area of the ledge that is at least 10 inches lower than the upper ledge. Thus, it will be some time before the chicks are physically able to jump up to the upper part of the ledge where they can get close to the edge. Since they are able to walk around, they will be exploring up and down that lower part of the ledge and so will be out of view at times.

On this view from the ledgecam you can see them huddled together, likely napping, just outside of the nestbox:
The camera angles are basically the same as we've had since we first started the cams in the late 1990s and cannot and will not be changed. There is obviously limitations to the view but that is how it has always been. The chicks will be most visible when food is brought and at night when they will likely return to the nestbox to sleep.

I hope to capture an image this week to show how they look at 4 weeks old. Their fluffy white down is starting to be replaced with their brown juvenile feathers. They will really transform quickly over the next 2 weeks.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Media Coverage of the Banding

The chicks continue to do well and I'm happy to report that (so far) the nestbox lens has stayed clean! The banding has received a lot of publicity. All three TV stations in Columbus (Channels 4, 6 and 10) were there to cover the event on Tuesday. In addition, print media was in attendence as well. As I become aware of published stories I will provide links. To continue the coverage even after the banding, I was a guest "Live" on this morning's Good Day Columbus program on Fox 28. Hopefully they will post the video of the interview on their website.

Here's a nice synopsis of the banding posted on YouTube.

In the past few days I've gotten quite a few inquiries on the whereabouts of Trooper, the male. Folks aren't seeing him via the cams and are worried that he isn't around. He is present, he just hasn't been perching within view of the cams much. He is doing his part to care for the chicks by hunting. He is providing food but handing it off to Scout to feed to the chicks.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Banding Goes Great!

The Columbus banding event went extremely well. We believe, based on overall size that both chicks are females. The kids who won the naming contest were extremely enthusiastic to help put one of the leg bands on "their" falcon.

Believe it or not we sometimes get criticism from a few individuals for banding these birds. It's a shame that people do not undertand the significance of banding. The process is important for research purposes (how else would we know where our Columbus young disperse to and that it is Scout nesting in Columbus and where she came from?); and 2.) the actual banding event really helps to raise awareness about the species and wildlife conservation in general. Only a handful of people actually are able to attend the banding, however, live streaming the event makes it available to the world.

Regarding the naming contest, we are able to educate an entire school about peregrine falcons and increase the appreciation of the kids for wild creatures in their communities. Besides each individual student, through conversations the interest, knowledge and excitement is transferred to their parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors and so on and so on. Consider it an investment in the future!

While the chicks and adults may be stressed during the event they recover very, very quickly. We know from many years of banding many nestlings, that an hour out of the lives of these birds is well worth the exposure that the species receives resulting in increased education and awareness of people all over.

Here are the details on names/bands. Each bird received a purple U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service band on the right leg and a black over red band (b/r) on the left leg:
Swoop: 08/Y
Spirit: 09/Y

At some point in the near future we should have a video of the banding available on our website. It will take a little time for editing. As soon as it's ready and posted, I'll post the link here. Thanks to everyone for watching the banding! Now we prepare for the next stage--fledging! It won't be long!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Names are Chosen -- Update on Banding

The votes are in (over 5,000 of them!) and this year's Columbus falcon chicks will be named:
"Spirit" and "Swoop"
Thanks again to the students of Benjamin Harrison Elementary School in Marion for participating in the contest and thanks to everyone for voting.
The chicks are nearing their 3rd week birthday and continue to grow! Today I was able to watch as the chick that had its foot stuck in a crack last week walked around and repeatedly grasped at one of the unhatched eggs. I also saw it hold the remains of a wing from a recent meal. All good signs that there was no damage to the leg or foot. Interesting to see also that the chick was holding its own food and picking at it. They grow and develop so quickly. Hard to imagine that in only a few weeks from now they will be fully flighted and catching prey on their own. Here is the ~3 week old photo:

Banding is set for tomorrow at 10 a.m. and will be shown on the nestbox live streaming feed. The normal 8 minute timeout of the live streaming will be disabled to allow viewers to watch the banding without having to reload the page. The banding is scheduled to begin at about 10 a.m. If you happen to be watching earlier do not be alarmed if you see Division of Wildlife personnel out on the ledge. Sometimes we need to access the ledge ahead of time to prepare for the banding. Further, with last minute testing there may be times when the video feed is temporarily unavailable. We are sorry for this inconvenience but it is necessary to have things ready to go for the "main event."

If you missed it, please check out my post from yesterday regarding the live streaming issue.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Live Streaming - Important Notice!!!!

Many, many people all over the world enjoy the ODNR, Division of Wildlife's Columbus Peregrine Falconcam and we are glad!!! However, along with the popularity has come an unanticipated problem.

To provide the live streaming video service we pay for every minute every user is playing each of the video streams. That is why we set up the streaming service to time out after 8 minutes - to help limit the time folks are on and thus limit the costs involved. However, through technology some people have figured out a way to get past the 8 minute timeout and thus run the streaming for longer periods of time. Every minute costs the Division of Wildlife money.

The Division of Wildlife operates on a fiscal year basis and are currently almost at the end of 4th quarter for FY10. The new fiscal year will begin in July. We are authorized to spend only previously approved budgeted monies and unfortunately, we are already overspent in this quarter for the Falconcam and we still have most of June to go. Costs for the live streaming are up over 30% from last year. This increased usage of our site that has resulted in increased costs were completely unanticipated and is why we are over budget.

How did this happen? Since the overall number of viewers to our site is similar to past years, it is likely from increased numbers of users bypassing the timeout and running the live streams for extended periods of time.

What does this mean? Worst case scenario is we may be forced to shut down the live streaming service until the next quarter budget is available to spend. Obviously, we don't want to do that since the rest of June will be prime time viewing.

What can be done? We are requesting approval to spend more than what we had budgeted for the final quarter this fiscal year. However, with strict budget restrictions statewide mandated by Governor Strickland there is no guarantee we will receive permission to do this. We may shorten the video sessions to timeout sooner than 8 minutes but that won't make a difference with the folks who are bypassing the timeout altogether. So, I will put out the request to anyone who is bypassing the timeout to please only run the live streams when you are actively watching. Please do not pull up the live streams for hours at a time to just have on so you can check in now and then.

I wish that I could just request everyone hit the "Support Falcons" donation button on the screen to keep us up and running. While we always appreciate donations and I don't want to deter anyone from being generous, the problem right now is immediate and donations go into a fund to be appropriated through a budget approved in the future.

On behalf of the Division of Wildlife, I thank everyone for your support and understanding during this time. Rest assured, we will continue the live streaming as long as possible and it will be available on Tuesday, June 8 for the banding with no timeout during the event. Regardless of what happens with the live streaming, the refreshed still images will still be available.

There is still time to vote for your choice of names for the two chicks. The webpoll will remain up until midday Monday, June 7.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Two Weeks Old

It's been two weeks since hatch and the nestlings are growing fast! Both chicks look healthy and normal--even the one that had its foot caught earlier this week. Banding will take place on Tuesday, June 8. The event is scheduled to be shown via live, streaming video on our website beginning at 10 a.m.

When there has been unhatched eggs in past years we have removed them at banding, however, Jennifer Norris, our statewide peregrine biologist has advised that she wishes the eggs to be left in the nest until later this summer when the box is cleaned out during usual post-nesting maintenance. Therefore, we won't be able to answer the question of if the eggs were infertile until later this year.

Don't forget to cast your vote to name the chicks! Click here to go to the webpoll. The Marion Star ran a great article about the students at Benjamin Harrison having the opportunity to name the chicks.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Name Webpoll Up!

Thanks to the students at Benjamin Harrison Elementary School in Marion for hosting this year's naming contest. Check back in the archives from Sept, 2009 for a post about the students at BH who inspired their classmates to learn about birds.

Because of their above average initiative and interest in our program, this year we picked Benjamin Harrison to host the naming contest.

The kids are asked to submit names that reflect the power, agility and majesty of this raptor. As always, the final names chosen fall within the following guidelines:
-not a human name
-non gender specific
-not used in Columbus in the past 10 years (Stealth was previously used in Columbus in 1996)
-not used anywhere in Ohio the current or previous year

Students submitted over 180 names! A panel of local wildlife enthusiasts narrowed the names down to what appears on the webpoll. Voting will continue through noon on Monday, June 7.
We hope that everyone votes! Click here to go to the webpoll!

Both Chicks Fine

The front of the nestbox camera has a bit of whitewash on it now-part of the view is blurry because of the poo. It sure would be nice if the chicks could "perfect their aim" and keep from decorating it much more!

Yesterday afternoon, one of the chicks got a foot caught in a crevice just outside of the nestbox. We monitored the situation yesterday. When it was apparent that the bird was not able to free itself we did access the ledge this morning and freed it. When I first went out on the ledge, both chicks were lying down together calmly.
What probably happened is that the foot went down in the crack but when the chick made a fist with its foot, the foot wouldn't fit back up through the crack. The good news is there wasn't any pinching or obvious injury.
Of the two chicks, one has more bluish feet, the other yellow feet. For monitoring purposes, it was the left foot of the chick with the yellow feet. Again, there was no broken skin or cuts so the chick was put back into the nestbox. We will give it a closer look next week at banding, which is scheduled for Tuesday, June 8.
Here is a photo of the area in front of the nestbox. You can see the crack. Know that in over 15 years of this site hosting nesting peregrines we've never had an incident. For now there is a white towel shoved into the crack to keep this from happening again in the next couple of weeks. The white towel is visible on the ledge view - so it might appear as though a chick is under the camera housing but it is only the towel! We apologize in advance for any confusion, but it was the only thing we had with us at the moment.