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: