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2003 Nestbox News

September 26, 2003

We have just received a belated Peregrine Falcon sighting from August. A viewer who is a delivery driver reported seeing five peregrines on a building at 90 Dey Street in Jersey City. He reported that this building is relatively vacant and is home to a large number of pigeons. It is entirely possible that the 101 Hudson Street falcons were still at least occasionally in the company of their parents at that time. Perhaps through viewer sightings we will be able to increase our knowledge of the dispersal of young falcons. Since Peregrines can wander quite far from their nest site after fledging, there is a lot unknown about exactly how long the young birds stay with their parents and each other before striking out on their own.

On the New Jersey hawk watches this past week we have seen a number of juvenile peregrines. Peregrine Falcon migration peaks in the first two weeks of October, and there is nothing quite so glorious as a Peregrine Falcon in flight, sometimes stooping right over the hawk watchers' heads. Take some time in the next few weeks to get out to one of New Jersey's many staffed hawk watches and enjoy one of nature's most spectacular pageants.

Raptor migration is largely dependent on weather conditions. In general, the first or second day after a cold front, with winds out of the north, will produce the largest number of birds.

September 16, 2003

According to the calendar, summer is not over for another week. But some mornings now have that unmistakable autumn tang and if one looks closely at the landscape, summer's green is subtly beginning to morph into the brown and red and orange of autmun. The days that seemed so long only a month ago are growing increasingly shorter as the earth slowly begins its inexorable passage into winter.

For the young falcons of Jersey City, it is time for one of their most important rites of passage, their first migration.

The Latin name for the Peregrine Falcon, Falco Peregrinus, should tell us something about their nature. The wandering Peregrine is found on every continent but Antarctica, and the migratory habits of the species are quite variable.

Adult falcons, such as the pair on 101 Hudson Street, will most likely remain on or very near to their territory over the winter. Only a complete absence of prey which would threaten their very survival would make them abandon the prime real estate which they have claimed for several years now.

The migration of young eyasses, recently separated from their parents and siblings, is quite variable. Biologists in several states, including our neighbors in Pennsylvania, have put telemetry equipment on first year birds to see where migration takes them. The results vary widely. Several birds from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nest have traveled north and become New Jersey residents. A female who was the sole survivor of the 2000 Harrisburg nest was almost the first natural nester on the New Jersey Palisades in the spring of 2001. A male from last summer spent a good portion of the year in and about the Hackensack Meadowlands and was seen as late as the end of June. Unfortunately, in early July it is possible that he died as the result of an air strike at Teterboro Airport, where his signal was lost. A female from his brood has been living near Atlantic City.

Many of the northeast Peregrines only go as far south as the Chesapeake Bay region, but some migrate all the way to Latin America. Their first migration will probably be their longest, as by their second and third year, if they survive the first year, they will be establishing breeding territories of their own. The sad fact is that more than fifty percent of the raptors that migrate south in the fall will not live to return the following spring. Many of the reasons for this high mortality rate are caused by humans. Many more will die of starvation.

Hopefully, with increased stewardship from all of us, someday that statistic will improve. We hope this year's brood will live long and prosper!

August 22, 2003

While we have been engrossed in the lives of the 101 Hudson Street birds, other young falcons have been making some interesting appearances in northern New Jersey.

On the morning of July 4th, Mel Ciociola, who lives in a high-rise building that sits on the banks of the Hudson River in Edgewater, heard a thud at his terrace door.Going to investigate, he found what he described as "a very beautiful if somewhat woozy bird" sitting on the astroturf floor of his terrace. For Mr. Ciociola, it was love at first sight.

The falcon, regarded him quite calmly as he grabbed the phone to call the local police and picked up his camera to take the shots you see here. The police could not reach animal control because of the holiday, so they decided to see if the bird would recover on its own from its encounter with plate glass.

Peregrine on balcony

My Ciociola was able to read the band on the bird, which finally made it off his terrace and glided away.
Peregrine foot with tags

He promptly got on the Internet and through a lot of tenacity found his way to Mike Valent, Principal Zoologist for ENSP in the Northern Regional Office, who identified the bird as a Peregrine Falcon and knew from the color protocol that the bird had been banded in New York. Mike then contacted New York DEC. It turned out that the young falcon was a male, which had been banded several weeks earlier at Riverside Church in Manhattan.

On July 6th, a neighbor on the same floor but on the other side of the building had what was possibly the same bird on her terrace. Several days later, neighbors saw three falcons sharing prey on the chimney of an adjacent building, quite possibly a similar scenario to what was seen in Jersey City.

Since peregrines disperse so quickly from their nest site after fledging, not much is known about their daily lives. It is believed, however, that young falcons will sometimes continue to remain together for a time even after separation from their parents.

Not too far from Edgewater, a yearling female Peregrine has since last October resided on an office building along a tributary of the Hackensack River. We are watching closely as she approaches adulthood to see if she attracts a mate and becomes our next building nester. The corporate tenants are quite aware of her presence and keep a close eye on her movements. This is just another example of the kind of citizen cooperation which has been so vital to the recovery of the Peregrine in New Jersey.

August 21, 2003

We have received a Peregrine Falcon sighting from Jersey City.

A viewer who works in a nearby office building was reading the Nestbox News update of August 12th when she noticed a Peregrine sitting on top of one of the towers of 101 Hudson Street. As she watched, three falcons, which the viewer described as "circling and shrieking," took off after what she described as the larger falcon.

We can only guess at the exact scenario, but it would appear that three juveniles were chasing after one of the adults, possibly the female, in an attempt to cadge a meal. Although the young birds are probably hunting on their own by now, they are opportunistic and certainly not above begging if the prospect of a meal presents itself.

August 12, 2003

We have not received any sightings of the Hudson Street falcons and in the case of young peregrines, no news is still good news.

At this stage of their development, the birds may often move far from their home base and the adults will spend more and more time away from them. The juvenile falcons are now entering one of the most crucial phases of their lives, as they begin to hunt on their own. Their success at this endeavor will determine nothing less than their very survival.

The young birds are now probably quite adept at receiving food from their parents while they are on the wing. This aerial food pass is considered to be one form of training for the falcons, and requires a good deal of practice and coordination.

Soon the young birds will start to mock attack almost anything that flies. In a short time, these attacks become serious business, although initially they are usually unsuccessful. The movement towards independence from the adults is gradual, probably taking several weeks. There have been reports of adult falcons feeding a juvenile as late as two months after fledging.

July 24, 2003
All the young from 101 Hudson Street seem to have successfully fledged. No young peregrines have been reported on the ground in the area of the building, and when it comes to newly fledged peregrines, no news is most definitely good news.

Although we can no longer see their activities, the family of falcons is undoubtedly moving to the ancient rhythms of their species. The adult female has once again resumed serious hunting, often working in tandem with her mate. The adults will stay together through the winter, reaffirming their pair bond throughout the year. As long as prey is sufficient, they will stay near their nesting area, as peregrines are tenacious in holding on to good real estate.

The young birds quickly master the foot-to-foot aerial food transfers by which their parents feed them. They can often be heard as they streak across the sky in pursuit of the adults, in hopes of getting a meal. It is said that the louder the whine, the more intense the hunger. It will still be several weeks before the youngsters start to hunt on their own.

Soon after fledging, the young begin to engage in a good deal of aerial "play," soaring and stooping on each other, often at high speed. While this may look like fun, in actuality, their behavior is a sort of avian survival school. In addition to honing their flying ability, the juveniles are learning to coordinate their response to prey, a skill which is vital if they are to survive once they are on their own.

More about the later phases of their development in a future update. Should you be in the vicinity of 101 Hudson, look up and listen. You never know what may be in the skies over Jersey City!

July 14, 2003
The young females appeared on camera several times over the weekend, perched on the ledge and doing a lot of wing flapping. One of the young males was also seen on the roof, where he probably flew in to receive food from the adult falcons.

As the young birds fly, they also enter one of the most perilous times of their lives. Peregrines that fledge in cities face many hazards. One of the greatest perils for birds just starting to fly is skyscrapers, especially those with tinted glass, which claim the lives of many birds, both raptors and passerines alike. The young falcons will also have to deal with low-flying helicopters along the waterfront and with aggressive birds such as Great Black-backed Gulls, which are numerous on the Hudson River.

Several times fledglings from 101 Hudson have ended up on the sidewalk. We have been fortunate that these birds have been rescued by quick-thinking citizens who have called animal control. Animal control, in turn, has called The Raptor Trust, in Millington, NJ, a rehab facility for birds of prey, where the excellent care provided by Diane and Len Soucy and their staff has enabled these birds to return to the wild. This sort of partnership between ENSP and citizens is largely responsible for bringing the Peregrine Falcon back to New Jersey.

July 10, 2003
ENSP's Kathy Clark, who was last seen banding the falcons during the live webcast on June 25, reported that just before sunset last night, she saw one of the adults perched above the nestbox. Suddenly, the adult dropped straight down. There is a roof area one or two stories below the top of the building, and it is likely that one or two of the young males are down there.

This morning, one of the juvenile females was sitting on the ledge. She appears to be quite well-feathered, with only a little down showing on the dorsal area. It appears likely that all the young falcons will be flying within the next few days.

July 9, 2003
This is a suspenseful time, as we wait to hear whether one or both of the males have fledged. Monday night one of them was sitting on the ledge and flapping, but we do not know if in fact he flew off or not. Age at first flight is usually somewhere between five and six weeks, with the males being the first to fly. This means fledging is imminent, if it has not already occurred.

The birds at this age are extremely sensitive to disturbance, which can result in their fledging before they are actually ready, so LCOR personnel have been avoiding the roof. Thus, we are all waiting for word.

The young males have lost virtually all of their down by now, and as they approach their first flight are becoming quite handsome. Some scientists believe that adult falcons deliberately reduce rations just prior to fledging, as the young birds are often quite plump. This may or may not be true, and would undoubtedly depend on such variables as number of birds in the brood, type and abundance of prey, and the experience of the parents.

July 1, 2003
The birds are making infrequent camera appearances right now. The heat of the day tends to make them inactive, and they spend much of their time attempting to keep cool in the shade of objects on the roof. If you notice any of the birds holding their wings out from their bodies and breathing through open beaks, this is not a sign of illness. Birds do not have sweat glands as such, and what you are seeing is merely the avian equivalent of perspiring. At 6:30 this morning while still somewhat cool, all four were visible and somewhat close together near the wall.

As the brood approaches five weeks, the two males are fairly well feathered. Both are beginning to preen themselves, the start of a life-long ritual. Since the females are about one-third larger than the males (thus the origin of the term "tiercel" for the male falcon) their development is somewhat slower. It takes additional time for them to attain their size and feathering. Both females still have quite a bit of white down showing in their plumage.

The adults are very busy these days, supplying food to all four of the young birds. The youngsters have become very aggressive in their response to food, so each requires his or her own meal. They are becoming quite adept at pulling their food apart on their own.

Between hunting for a family of six and the young birds' growing ability to eat on their own, the adults are also less visible. The youngsters no longer need to be brooded and the adults spend much of their time away from the nestbox. In case of disturbance however, they will be quite vociferously present and are never very far away.

June 28, 2003
The nestlings are creating some excitement of their own. Last evening just before dusk, the female falcon returned to the nest with food. As the young birds grow, so does their hunger. Two of the birds were leaning over the edge of the nest box and in the excitement of jostling to be fed, one of the youngsters went over the edge of the box, and was not able to jump high enough to get back in.

By 6:30 this morning, all but one of the siblings had joined the little pioneer, and only one female remains inside. At about 9:30 the adult female came in again with food, and the last bird looked on hungrily while the other three grabbed the prey. Hunger will undoubtedly propel her onto the roof, probably before the day is out.

From what we have been able to see, it also appears that the chicks are now feeding themselves. The adult birds at this point are just dropping the prey in front of their young, who charge after their meal.

June 27, 2003
The Jersey City Peregrine brood has had an exciting few days. Yesterday Kathy Clark and Mike Valent calmly banded the young birds in the glare of the cameras as part of our first live webcast. Appearing with them was Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin, DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell and Division of Fish & Wildlife Director Martin McHugh.

Unfortunately for those trying to tune in to the live event after 8:30 AM, the state web server crashed for about two hours, possibly due to the volume of visitors. We are putting together a streaming video of the banding which can be seen on the website in the near future.

The juvenile falcons now wear band numbers *8/*V and *8/*W for the males and E/*S and G/*S for the females (The asterisk means the character is sideways. See our new section on how and why we band on the video feed page.) These bands will stay with the falcons through life, and will allow us to track them if their band number is ever reported.

June 17, 2003
All four falcon chicks appear healthy and robust. They are developing quickly now, walking better and beginning to flap their wings, which almost always makes them lose balance. Their juvenile feathers will begin to appear in the next few days and by next Wednesday, when banding is scheduled (and broadcast live at 9am), they will likely show some tail and wing feathers.

Feeding time is naturally when there is the most activity and nestlings' instincts as birds of prey -- even at this early stage -- are on display. The chicks not only compete for food dispensed by the adult, but they are beginning to go after the carcass itself on their own initiative and steal food from the beaks of their siblings, which is always amusing.

By the end of the month the nestlings will be much more mobile and begin to leave their nestbox perch to run around on the roof. At that time the Peregrine cam will pull back in view, making more of the roof -- and the falcon chick's activities and continued development -- visible.

June 12, 2003
Yesterday we received several reports from concerned viewers that the chicks seemed to have disappeared. Since we too saw no activity when viewing the cam we requested a building worker to check on the birds. What he found was the four chicks had moved to the back left corner of the box, out of the Webcam's view, and all looked in good condition. This morning the chicks were quite visible in the center of the box, and at 9:15am we observed a parent fly in with a fresh kill.

Since the parents aren't spending much time in the box with the birds it may seem they're abandoned, but it is possible the adults are perched atop the box or next to it, out of the webcam's view, much of the time. So all seems well at this time.

We anticipate banding the chicks around June 25 and plan to broadcast our biologists in action.

June 4, 2003
Based on observations of the adults we have estimated that hatching occurred on May 29, 2003. At first it appeared that three chicks had hatched but today we checked the nestbox and confirmed that four chicks have hatched. Plans are being made to band the chicks when they are between three and four weeks of age. Therefore, banding will likely occur between the 19th and 25th of June.

At 5 to 7 days of age the young falcons are about 5 inches in length and are covered in a white down. The pink skin of the chicks is visible through the down but this is not visible over the webcam. At this age the chicks are still weak and spend most of the time in the prone position huddled together - except at feeding time when they'll lift their heads to accept food from the adults.

By next week the chicks will be about 6 inches in length, considerably stronger and will be able to sit up and keep their heads up for extended periods of time. By then we will be able to see much more of them.

June 3, 2003
It appears that three chicks have hatched in the rooftop nestbox. While viewers may be fortunate enough to see them being fed, the continued cool weather has resulted in the parent maintaining a consistent brooding posture over the chicks. In a few days, especially with some warmer weather, we should start seeing a bit more of the chicks.

May 27, 2003
With hatching expected at any time now we're watching the nestbox quite closely. If the weather remains cool, she will brood nestlings closely even after hatching. If that's the case, we may not see the chicks for several days afterwards.

May 19, 2003
The Peregrine cam has been providing a great view of the teamwork that takes place during incubation. Those lucky enough to view an actual handoff of nestbox duty from one parent to the other have witnessed a precise, ancient choreography. Whenever one parent leaves, the other arrives within no more than a minute or two to tend the eggs.

It is important for the falcons to maintain the eggs at a proper temperature for incubation to be successful. In the direct morning sun the parent will extend its wings over the eggs to shade them, protecting against overheating.

May 12, 2003
Incubation appears to be continuing uneventfully. We all are looking forward to the "due date" of May 28.

May 1, 2003
Incubation has been in full swing swing since this past weekend. As is typical with peregrine falcons, most of the incubation will be done by the female. She should remain low in the nest box as she incubates the eggs. Often only her head and upper body will be visible to the camera lens. On warm days she might occasionally stand up and move cautiously around the eggs. The only time she is likely to exit the box is when there is a food exchange.

Males will typically bring food to the female and assume the duty of incubation while she takes a meal. There is considerable variation in the behavior among peregrine pairs during nesting. Some males remain close to the nest (and the incubating female) when they are not away hunting for food. Conversely, some males spend little time near the nest and only appear when bringing food to the incubating female.

Periodically, the incubating adult will get up off of the eggs and turn each one before resuming the incubation position. This behavior is directed toward providing each egg in the clutch with more even temperatures. Turning the eggs is believed to serve another important function by preventing the embryonic membranes from adhering to the inside of the shell. As each egg is turned the embryo remains uppermost on the inside of the shell.

The primary function of incubation is to transfer heat from the adult to the embryo inside of the egg. However, when eggs are exposed to full sunlight they must be kept cool. Our Jersey City peregrine has laid her clutch in the very front part of the nest box and at certain times during the day the female and the eggs are exposed to full sunlight. As the daytime temperatures increase, her role may shift to keeping the eggs cool.

April 28, 2003
As those of you who are faithfully watching the peregrine web cam have probably suspected, our Jersey City peregrines have another clutch of eggs to incubate. The female had been spending a lot of time in the box last week and by her actions it appeared she had begun laying again. By Saturday it seemed that the clutch was complete and she is now incubating full-time. If everything proceeds normally the eggs should hatch around May 28th. Weather certainly should not be a factor this time around! Keep watching.

April 8, 2003
The Peregrines returned to the Jersey City nestbox atop 101 Hudson in late March. Courtship proceeded well and four eggs were laid. Based on behavioral observations and reports from engineers at the building it was estimated that the clutch was completed on April 2nd or 3rd. Unfortunately, yesterday's severe spring snowstorm has resulted in a potentially major setback.

On Tuesday morning following the snowstorm, ENSP biologists asked LCOR employee Bob Barth to go up on the roof to clear the snow from the front of the box and observe the falcon. Unfortunately, the snowdrift in front of the box obscured the real problem, which was an accumulation of snow inside the box. Evidently the conditions yesterday during the height of the storm were too severe for the peregrine and she was forced to leave the nestbox. Winds in excess of 45 mph were reported on the rooftop during the storm.

Today when Bob checked the box he found it filled with about a foot or more of snow and the adults were nowhere to be seen. The clutch of four eggs was buried under about 8 inches of snow. He cleared the snow out of the box and removed the eggs. There is no chance that the eggs would have remained viable after being buried in the snow for that length of time. Biologists are hoping that the absence of eggs in the box will act as a stimulus for the female to re-lay. Since failure occurred early in the breeding cycle chances are good that the pair will make another nesting attempt. The eggs will be retained for contaminant analysis as part of the ENSP's raptor monitoring project.

Biologists will observe the box over the next several days for signs of renewed breeding attempts. If the birds attempt to nest again it will probably be 10-14 days before egg-laying occurs. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait to see what happens. The adult birds have already been seen on and around the nestbox.

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