The Falcon Cam’s Four Fledglings Soon In Flight To New Homes

The Falcon Cam's Four Fledglings Soon In Flight To New Homes

Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife

Delaware –-(Ammoland.com)- The now-renowned Wilmington Falcon Cam Peregrine Falcons are finishing flight school and soon to disperse to new horizons, capping an outstanding and intriguing season for thousands of cam viewers – and of course for the falcons’ parents.

Last week, all five of the falcon chicks left their nest site atop the Brandywine Building in downtown Wilmington.

Two of the eyasses (as falcon chicks are known), both males, are now flying free above the city while their two sisters have been translocated to West Virginia as part of a regional effort to restore the Peregrine falcons to their native habitat. (Unfortunately, one of the males was not successful in his first attempts at flight and died trying.)

In mid-March, DNREC Falcon Cam watchers were delighted to see the resident pair produce their first clutch, a whopping five eggs, all of which later hatched. Typical clutches are three to four eggs, but these falcons were making up for a failed mating season in 2010. And in doing so they exceeded expectations to give cam viewers continuous thrills over the next three months. (A complete chronology of this year’s falcon cam action can be found at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/Pages/Peregrine_Falcon_Cam.aspx.)

In the early evening hours of May 26 came another aspect of wildlife management for the Peregrine Falcons – four of the chicks received leg bands so they could be monitored and identified wherever they fly. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) raptor biologist Craig Koppie did the banding, assisted by falcon aficionado Kim Steininger who has been watching and photographing the Wilmington Peregrines for several years. Each of the four chicks received a silver USFWS migratory bird band with an identifying number on one leg and a color band (black over green with numbers and letters) on the other leg.

During the first week of June, the youngsters transitioned from chicks to fledglings as they took flight for the first time. For two of the males, all went well and they are currently flying around the city, preparing to start life on their own. Unfortunately, the third male was found dead near the ground floor of the Brandywine Building – it’s not known how the fledgling died, but the city can be a dangerous place for a young falcon on the ground.

The two sisters also had their struggles early on, as both ended up grounded on city streets. After several attempts to place one of them back on the roof of the Brandywine Building – and with the other still lacking fully-developed tail feathers – both were taken to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center near Newark. There, both birds were given a clean bill of health. But having been rescued from the busy streets of Wilmington and it not being in their best interest to fledge in the confines of Tri-State’s facility, the females were given a new aerial opportunity in more natural settings in West Virginia – through an ongoing reintroduction effort known as hacking.

After DNREC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists conferred over their situation, the young Wilmington females were selected to begin a new adventure, joining other young Peregrine Falcons from New Jersey and Delaware. The two Wilmington females were transported to a cliffside hacking site near the New River Gorge, W. Va.

Urban Peregrine Falcon fledglings, particularly those that nest on tall buildings or bridges, face many dangers in their environment. Often, weather and wind events or poorly-timed attempts at flight can lead to mortality. The two Wilmington females have a better chance at survival in their natural habitat. They will be temporarily kept in a protective cage, provided food, and closely monitored – all while biologists stay concealed monitoring them. The young falcons will get acclimated to their new surroundings for several days during which time they will also observe other recently released falcons coming to the hack site to feed and interact.

“Hacking has its greatest potential for success when groups (six or more) of similar-aged young are released together,” USFW S raptor biologist Koppie said. “The success of reintroduction was dependent in part, on an adequate food supply provided at the release site, thus allowing minimal energy expenditure by the falcon young. With enough food, the young can sustain an optimal energy level for engaging in ‘play’ with other falcons, including tail-chasing, capturing song birds and harassing vultures.”

Once the Wilmington females are released, they will join their new siblings in learning to forage through this playful interaction. Still, while basking in this natural habitat, the young falcons nevertheless face danger such as great horned owls, but they have a far safer environment in other respects, away from busy city streets where danger lurks in the form of tall buildings, glass windows, traffic, and electrical utilities.

Cliffs provide a natural place for them to develop their flight, with many tiers of ledges to land rather than the steep face of a building and no plate glass windows to accidentally fly in to. In addition, by releasing these falcons at the hacking site, biologists hope that the site will be imprinted on the birds, and that they will return to similar surroundings in the future, further restoring the regional population of Peregrine Falcons.

“It’s a great honor that the Wilmington falcons can contribute to the recovery of the species in its natural range,” Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon said. “With luck, we will see our Wilmington girls again with their own nests in the wilds of West Virginia.”

And as for the ongoing exploits of the Peregrines on the DNREC Falcon Cam? Wait’ll next year – but certainly not because the season just ended fell short in any sense. “The same as the hundreds of online watchers, I too was captivated by the drama of the parents and their young, from egg laying to fledging,” said Bill Stewart of the Delmarva Ornithological Society, one of the webcam partners, along with DuPont’s Clear Into the Future program. “One could not help but become almost parentally attached! Although selfishly saddened to see the two girls leave Wilmington, smart and wise wildlife conservation became the guiding light in an attempt to provide our falcons the best chance for a successful life.” Only time will tell if an encore performance is in the nest box for the Wilmington Peregrine Falcons in 2012, but they certainly had viewers on the edge of their PC screens for three months this year.

For more information on the falcons, contact Anthony Gonzon, 302-735-8673, or Craig Koppie, 410-573-4534.