Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Good News, Bad News, Best News

Good News: Last evening the new adult female spent time in front of the ledgecam. Lighting conditions weren't the best for reading the leg band, but we believe the code is *S/*X (the "*" indicates that the letter is horizontal on the band).
*S/*X is the adult female that has frequented the stadium area of The Ohio State University for the past 2 seasons, named Clementine. (Note: Even though falcons have claimed OSU as a territory, there has not been a successful nest at that location.)

Now the Bad News: the opportunity to confirm the band seen via the ledgecam last night, but in a way we do not prefer...I was contacted today by Petersen Thomas who was downtown last evening about 7:30 p.m. He witnessed a large bird of prey dive head first into the street at 3rd and Gay Streets. He retrieved the bird from the road (it was DOA) and reported to me that it was banded: a purple band on the right leg and a black and green band on the left leg. The black and green band code was *S/*X - Clementine. So, Columbus is again without an adult female falcon. It is unknown what exactly happened--it may be that she was stooping after prey and just misjudged the ground. Another example of how when these birds end up in trouble the Division of Wildlife is notified. [A quick "Thanks!" to everyone who has taken the time to call in to report a falcon, including Petersen in this case.]

Now the BEST NEWS: Two falcons were observed landing on the next ledge over from the nest ledge this morning at about 8:15 a.m. Since we are once again down to only two falcons in town that we know of (Trooper and Spirit) we can assume that the birds seen were indeed Trooper and Spirit. So, the best news is that, as presumed, Spirit is doing well and has been able to make it up to the 41st floor of the Rhodes Tower. I hope that she will come back to the nest ledge and even show her leg bands to the ledge camera so we can confirm it for sure.

Commentary: The number of peregrines lost in Columbus in recent days is truly unusual and out of the ordinary. Some concerns I have received via email include comments on how dangerous an urban area is to these birds and "why would we entice them to nest in an unnatural area?" It is a fact that peregrine falcons as a species have adapted to urban environments on their own. While ~30 years ago it was unheard of, cities are now considered a natural habitat for these birds to nest in. The falcons benefit from man made structures: tall buildings mimic a cliff, the historical nesting place for a peregrine. Further, many other types of avian species also utilize urban areas; therefore, peregrines have a very varied menu of other birds to prey on. Each peregrine nest in Ohio is considered a natural nest because the falcons have chosen the territory on their own accord. Bottom line, cities provide an excellent and natural habitat for peregrine falcons as is proven by their overwhelming success in nesting in these areas throughout the Midwest.

Despite the many benefits of a city environment, urban areas do present some hazards for the peregrines (reflective glass, guy wires, antennas, etc.). However, hazards also exist for peregrines nesting in rural cliff sites as well: great-horned owls, snakes, deep caverns, etc. So while both urban and rural nesting peregrines face many dangers, the main difference between the two types of nest sites is that with urban nests humans are able to view a nest via webcams (where available) and when a falcon is injured in the city, people are there to help it. In a rural habitat, when a falcon chick falls from a ledge, fails when flying or otherwise becomes injured it surely succumbs to starvation, the injury and/or predation. No people are there to see it or to intervene.

Despite the unusually high number of losses this year, the Peregrine Falcon Program in Columbus has been especially successful. Since 1994, over 40 young peregrines have been produced at this site, with many surviving to raise young of their own elsewhere in the Midwest (see a list at Tracking Columbus Falcons). While it is easy to dwell on what birds we have lost recently I ask folks to not forget the successes. Many young hatched in Columbus have survived to establish territories of their own elsewhere and raise young - thus a true measure of how resilient peregrine falcons are.