PEREGRINE FALCON CAM OFFERS UNIQUE LOOK AT ENDANGERED BIRDS
Three Chicks Doing Well in Jersey City High Rise
(12/P65) - DEP Journal
By Bob Considine
Peregrine Falcons are a recovering species in New Jersey and along the eastern seaboard, coming back from eradication in the 1960s and 70s. So when the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s “Peregrine cam’’ revealed the hatching of three Peregrine chicks atop the Mack-Cali Realty building in Jersey City last month, there was considerable cause for celebration.
“They’re a great symbol of urban wildlife and they’re a great recovery story,” said Kathy Clark, principal zoologist of the DEP’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program. “Peregrine Falcons, which are on the state’s endangered species list, continue to successfully adapt to urban settings in New Jersey, nesting on major bridges and the tallest buildings. It’s an encouraging sign.”
It’s also a testament to the Christie Administration’s commitment to protecting endangered species and their habitats.
Clark is delighted to share this year’s good news with thousands of people from all over the world, ranging from the simply curious to dedicated bird enthusiasts, who have checked in online to the DEP’s webcam for the past decade to see if there is a New Jersey falcon nesting atop the Mack-Cali building, and hoping for positive results.
A chronology of this year's season, links to both the live feed and current still images can be viewed at: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/peregrinecam/jcp-2012nestnews.htm.
“It becomes something of a habit: What will happen at the nest this year? How many of the eggs will hatch? Will the whole nesting process go smoothly?’’ said Mike Girone, a DEP Peregrine Project volunteer, who perhaps watches the wildlife cam more than anyone. “Anyone can tune in and watch the behavior of the birds and how they interact with each other, and see how their behavior changes as the season progresses.”
The Peregrine Falcons atop the Hudson Street office building in Jersey City were first spotted in 2000 by property managers Tom H. Reid and Bob Barth, who alerted the Division of Fish and Wildlife. DEP Principal Biologist Mick Valent responded to what was at that time the city’s highest structure and observed a female Peregrine flying overhead.
Hoping to persuade the falcon to make a permanent stop, Valent placed two nest boxes on opposite ends of the roof. That decision paid almost immediate dividends as a pair of falcons quickly chose to nest on the northwest corner. That pair has produced at least one and as many as four chicks annually.
“At this nest, the female is very protective and aggressive,” said Clark, who carefully observes their behavior. “She’ll speed by you like a freight train. The male usually sits close by the nest. It makes them a pretty good pair.”
Initially financed by a foundation grant and now supported by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, a webcam peering into the Peregrines’ high-rise nest was installed in 2001. It has allowed many thousands of viewers to peak in on the couple and their chicks, including employees and visitors at the 101 Hudson Street location in Jersey City where a lobby monitor features a constant live view of the nest.
“I love the irony of what the Jersey City nest represents,” Girone said. “Here’s a species that was nearly driven to extinction by man. Now, after a successful reintroduction, they are using man-made structures in some of the most densely-populated areas to raise new generations of falcons.”
The Peregrine Falcon, once commonly known as the duck hawk but scientifically known as Falco peregrinus, is revered as the world’s fastest bird, reaching speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. About the size and weight of a crow, it is the largest falcon to habit New Jersey. Females are larger than males and can take prey as large as a duck.
These birds have long amazed wildlife enthusiasts in their physics-defying method of hunting for smaller birds -- flying high and dropping headlong toward their catch before extending their wings in a braking motion and swinging their legs like a pendulum to make the capture.
But the mighty peregrine falcon nearly fell victim to a man-made pesticide a few decades ago.
The widespread use of DDT starting in the 1940s and 1950s wreaked havoc on many birds as the toxin worked its way through the animal food chain. The effects of DDT caused young Peregrine chicks to die early or caused adult Peregrines to lay thin-shelled eggs that cracked under the mother’s weight when she tried to incubate them.
By 1964, Peregrine Falcons had disappeared from the eastern half of the United States, prompting federal and state endangered designations.
When the Environmental Protection Agency banned use of DDT in 1972, it was hoped the Peregrine population could make a comeback. The Division of Fish and Wildlife embarked on its own restoration program in New Jersey in 1975. Young peregrines were bred in captivity and released along the Jersey Shore between 1975-1980. While not a typical habitat for the bird, New Jersey’s coastal marshes provided an abundant prey base and a sanctuary away from predators such as great horned owls.
By 1980, the first known wild nesting was observed at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Brigantine. By 2009, 24 nests were being monitored by the DEP, and produced an excess of young that biologists were able to relocate to neighboring states to accelerate the bird’s regional recovery process.
According to a 2011 Peregrine Falcon report, authored by Clark, Valent and Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the known peregrine population in New Jersey remains steady at 24 pairs. Fourteen of those pairs nest on towers and buildings, six on New Jersey bridges, and four on cliffs.
“The population is doing fairly well,” Wurst said. “We believe there are more than the active pairs we’ve documented, but the hard part is nailing down where they’re nesting. We like to see nesting in more urban habitats because there are abundant sources of food like pigeons and smaller birds.’’
The nest atop 101 Hudson Street in Jersey City continues to be something of a voyeuristic form of ornithology. Or a silent wildlife soap opera for viewers, starting around incubation time in April until hatching time in May and departure time for the chicks in June or July.
Last year, drama came in the form of the survival of a third chick born much smaller than his two siblings, with a leg sticking off to the side. Clark thought the struggling bird would die or have to be euthanized. But through the efforts of Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Del, the bird survived.
“Part of the lesson of the webcam is that this is nature and sometimes it’s not pretty,” Clark said.
This spring, Peregrine watchers were able to see Mother Peregrine huddle over her eggs before three nestlings successfully hatched in the first week of May. After a quick examination and a dose of medication from Clark to stave off Trichomoniasis (a pigeon-born disease), the three young birds have thrived. Increased feathering can be seen by webcam viewers every day and the birds are just starting to spend a few hours outside their nest box.
By the summer, it is hoped these new chicks will be healthy enough to fly the coop, turning their parents into empty-nesters again. Until then, viewers can check on their progress daily.
“It’s really neat to tune it and be in their air space,” said Clark.
For more information on the DEP’s Peregrine Falcon project visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/peregrinecam/jcp-about.htm
For more information on threatened and endangered species in New Jersey visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensphome.htm
For information on the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey visit: http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/