Have questions while watching the falcon cam? Send your question to Jeff Meshach at the World Bird Sanctuary! Your question along with Jeff's response may be posted here - so check this page often when you view the nesting falcons.
Hello All. I have some bad news. Over the weekend 18-19 May our 2 chicks died. In working with the person who runs the camera, it has been determined that the adult female stopped coming to the box. The chicks were still totally dependent on being fed by the female. The chicks don’t start getting strength in their feet and beaks, at least enough to feed themselves, until about 30 days of age. At that time they can also stand. All 3 things, standing over the food to be able to tear, having the foot strength to hold the prey in place, and beak strength, are very important in them being able to feed themselves.
The male cannot raise the kids on his own. Nature has given him the job of providing food for the female, and she brings the food to the box, tears it into pieces with her beak and feeds the chicks. When the female stops coming to the box, the male just isn’t capable of taking over the duties of feeding. Our camera man poured over camera footage from the weekend and found some video of the male sitting on the unhatched eggs. Of course, he doesn’t have the capacity to understand this futile effort. This bazaar behavior tells me something happened to the female.
Our female was 13 years old. In Ask Jeff 1 I spoke about how this is quite old for a Peregrine. There are so many things that could have happened to her; so many things that it’s useless to speculate. Over the 8 nesting seasons we have been able to get our viewers into the lives of Peregrine Falcons, I’ve mentioned how hard it is to lead a life in the wild, not just for Peregrines, but for all wildlife. Nature is seemingly cruel. Wildlife has to deal with predators, prey that can fight back, bad weather, let alone the obstacles we humans place in nature. Unfortunately we have to deal with this event, but I can safely tell you that there will be a thousand Peregrine nests in the United States this year that will fail, or have already failed. Again, this is just the harsh reality of nature. The bright side is there will be many more thousands of nests that will be successful, as our nest has been for the 7 years before the 2019 nesting season. Bottom line is the Peregrine Falcon population is still very strong, and with all the care and compassion we humans put into helping them be successful, there will always be Peregrines and much more wildlife for us and future generations to enjoy.
I think I can speak for our falcon cam team to say we all look forward to bringing you Ameren’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine Falcon cam in 2020.
May, 20th 2019
Hi All! We are rapidly approaching banding day, which is Tuesday, 21 May. My, how those chicks grow! They were about an ounce (28 grams) at hatching, and at 16 days of age (I write this on 17 May) they weigh about 12 ounces (336 grams). On banding day they will be 20 days old, which is the perfect age to band. Bird of prey chicks are altricial, meaning helpless for the first several weeks of life (the opposite is precocial, like duck chicks that can follow mom and swim within hours of hatching). I take advantage of this helplessness in that I don’t have to deal with biting, footing chicks when I collect them for banding. At 20 days of age they still aren’t walking, have no strength in their feet and very little beak strength. Yet, they are old enough where I can tell the difference between the males and females. Males are considerably smaller than females, thus I must use different size bands on each.
I got a question over the week! The question is when will mom stop brooding the chicks? In ASK JEFF 5 I wrote about the differences between incubating and brooding, and the reason why mom (and sometimes dad) must keep the chicks warm. As the chicks grow their bodies eventually get big enough where their core temperature starts to remain the same, which is 104 degrees F with most of our world’s birds. The more insulation there is around the cores of their bodies, the easier it is for their bodies to keep a constant temperature. This coupled with those amazing feathers, which are the world’s best natural insulation, our Peregrine chicks start to regulate their own body temperatures around 10 days of age. At 16 days old, which they are this day that I write, and with the temperature being in the low 90’s, there is no need for mom to do any brooding. Even if the temperature dipped into the 50’s tonight, the chicks would be fine without extra warmth from mom.
I’ll write to you next week right after banding day.
May, 13th 2019
Hello all! Today (5/9) our 2 chicks are 8 days old. Especially Dad falcon is busy bringing in prey for mom to feed to the ever-growing chicks. As I write this, I see Mom is busy brooding (I explained brooding in the last Ask Jeff) because the temperature is cool today, with also a little rain. Her position in the box is much different than it was a week ago and beyond, when she had very small chicks or just eggs. The chicks grow so fast that they make Mom have to stand up more as she keeps the chicks warm under her.
Fast growth is an understatement when speaking of chicks. In a mere 50 days the chicks will be fully grown. That’s going from weighing about an ounce and a half (45 grams) at hatching to males weighing about 28 ounces (800 grams) and females weighing about 50 ounces (1,425 grams).
You may ask why the females are much bigger than the males. There are several theories on this phenomenon. Some say males are smaller for better agility when trying to catch prey, especially during the critical time of incubation and young chick brooding. The male does almost all of the hunting for the female and then the young family.
Some say the female is larger than the male for nest defense. If the body is bigger it is thus more intimidating to would be egg/chick stealers. Still others say the female is bigger to be able to produce the clutch of eggs. The eggs take a lot of nutrients from the body, and if the body is bigger it should be able to more easily produce eggs and still leave plenty in the tank for other bodily functions.
A female bird’s body has another little secret to help with egg production. Birds that fly have hollow places within the larger bones. With flying being one of the most strenuous exercises in nature, having hollow bones helps save weight and makes for a lighter body more easily kept aloft. Females have the ability to grow medullary bone within the hollow spaces. Medullary bone is small bone spurs that grow from the bone surfaces within the hollow spaces. It grows over the non-breeding season, and during egg production the spurs decrease in size as the eggs are produced.
Still no questions from our viewers. I miss your questions! Please write them in and I’ll get right to them on the next ASK JEFF.
May, 5th 2019
Hello All. The day has come. We have hatching! One of our Peregrine Cam Team members saw the first chick 1st May. With the current rainy and somewhat cool weather our female is sitting very tight on her new family, but on the morning of May 3rd I finally saw the next generation. When she got up to let the male take over brooding duties, I saw 2 chicks. For those who watched last year, you may remember we had 2 then. She had 5 eggs, and why only 2 hatched we will never know. However, with her and the male’s old age (13 and 15 years old respectively), it could explain lack of nesting productivity.
When a bird is keeping eggs warm, it’s called incubating. When a bird is keeping chicks warm, it’s called brooding. It’s very important to keep the young chicks warm because birds can’t regulate their own body heat at first. They are much more like their reptilian ancestors (reptiles are cold blooded) until they get to be a certain size and grow their downy feathers to help insulate their small bodies. If you watch the Peregrines on a daily basis, you’ll see mom brooding the chicks a lot over the first 5-10 days. After the 10th or so day, and/or if the temperature warms into the 80’s, mom will start spending less time brooding because the chicks will start to regulate their own 104 degree F body temperature.
Our banding day is scheduled for 21st May. We turn the camera off that morning until our activities are done. Then you’ll see the new “jewelry” on the chicks. I like to band the chicks at 20 days because then you can easily tell the difference in size between the males and females. Females are larger than the males, which translates to a different size band for each.
No one asked questions over the last week. I sure hope that changes, especially now that the chicks have arrived. I’m ripe for answering your questions, so talk to you next week!
April, 26th 2019
Hello Everyone! There were no questions asked last week, and with our female patiently incubating her clutch of 5 eggs, I skipped last week’s Ask Jeff. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have an interesting Peregrine Falcon experience over last week.
I got a call from a photographer in the Hannibal, Missouri area, and he told me he was watching a Peregrine that consistently perched in a group of cottonwood trees just upstream from the bridge that takes interstate 72 and U.S. route 36 across the Mississippi River. He sent me pictures, and sure enough he got some great images of an adult Peregrine.
The bird’s consistent position peaked my interest. First, I know Peregrines like to nest on bridges crossing large bodies of water. Bridges provide good hunting perches for this bird eating predator. As birds try to fly across the Mississippi, Peregrines streak to them to try to catch them before they can get to cover one side or the other. Second, what caught my interest most is bridges provide safe nesting places for the falcons. I asked the photographer if he ever saw this bird flying up and under the bridge, and he said he’d seen this behavior several times. I speculated the photographer was taking pictures of the male of a pair, and the female had her nest on the underside of the bridge.
My speculation was turned to truth when a Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) bridge engineer saw the 4 eggs on a steel beam when he was performing an inspection of the bridge on the same day the photographer sent me the pictures. MODOT was going to hang a “snooper” scaffold under the bridge over the next 2 days to continue their inspection, but once they found out the Missouri state endangered Peregrines were nesting there, they postponed their inspection until after 1 August (a special thanks goes out to MODOT for this postponement). The nesting cycle would be all over by that time of the summer, and they could do their inspection under safer conditions. Yep, the birds would be done with their nesting, and just as importantly, the workers would be safe from attacks by the female as she defended her nest (once the chicks leave the nest the female mostly loses her need to defend the nest). If there’s anyone that knows how viciously a female Peregrine defends her nest, it’s certainly me! Over the last 4 years at Portage de Sioux Energy Center the female has struck with her feet my helmet at least 30 times per nest visit, as she tried to shoe me away from her precious chicks.
So, all parts of the above story are quite fascinating to me, but the one bit of information that spun my mind into a series of questions was the part where the bridge engineer said the 4 eggs are on a steel beam, with no nesting material around them. There are no falcons in the world that bring nesting material to their nest. No sticks, grasses, wood bark; nothing. At Portage de Sioux we provide a nest box with pea gravel on its floor, which simulates a cliff nesting situation. Before humans came on the scene Peregrines would search for a place on a cliff that provided a level, mostly dry surface with some gravel or soil within which they’d dig with their feet a depression, or scrape, so their eggs stayed in one place. The depression also allows the pair to more efficiently incubate all the eggs at once.
So, how does a female Peregrine incubate her eggs when they are sitting on a hard, flat surface? How does she not break them with her weight? How does she get all the eggs (as many as 5) under her at the same time? In my experience I’ve witnessed Peregrines in the “hard, flat surface” scenario be perfectly successful, and ones that were not.
All birds have feathers on their bellies, as they have over most other parts of their bodies. During a nesting season, females of some species actually pluck their belly feathers, so their warmer skin is against their eggs and young chicks. This mostly featherless patch is called the brood patch. In my experience observing Peregrines, the females don’t pluck their belly feathers. This could be so they can keep their eggs and young chicks warmer with no nesting material to help insulate the eggs/chicks. If you are lucky enough to watch especially the female just before she settles her belly on the eggs, she fluffs up those belly feathers, thus enveloping most of the surface of each egg with those insulating feathers. The heat from her body (birds have a 104-degree average temperature, where humans are 98.6 degrees) warms the eggs and the feathers insulate.
Still, a female Peregrine on a flat, hard surface must have to prop her body up somewhat so her full weight isn’t on the eggs. A bird egg is very strong, but with all her weight on the upper side of the egg pushing the underside of the egg against the hard surface, you’d think cracks would form. Also, you would think she’d be much less comfortable for the 30 or so days of incubation. Her weight is probably supported with her whole foot. A bird foot includes the toes, the joint where all the toes meet and the bone that goes from that joint all the way up to the next joint, which is in essence the ankle joint. In my experience I’ve seen 2 females on flat surfaces incubate only one egg at a time, while the other eggs rolled around on the surface. When she’d leave for her brake, the male might incubate a different egg then the female was incubating, and when she returned, she might incubate a different egg than she incubated before she left. You can probably guess that each of these nests failed. I’ve also observed 2 different Peregrine females successfully incubate all 4 of their eggs on a flat, hard surface, with all eggs hatching. The difference between the successful and unsuccessful females; hard to say. These are the questions that keep it interesting for me. You can bet I’ll again report on the Peregrine nest under the bridge at Hannibal, Missouri. In the meantime, our female should have chicks sometime over the nest 7 days. Keep your eyes peeled!
April, 3rd 2019
Hello all! Our female, being 13 years old this year, has done it again. She’s managed to lay 5 eggs, just like last year. Thirteen years old is quite old for a Peregrine, and the male is 15 this year. Just like humans in their later years, bodily systems don’t work as efficiently as when we were younger. There’s more of a chance some of the eggs won’t hatch, but of course we will hope for the best.
If my calculations are correct, our female laid her last egg on March 26th. She laid her first egg on 18 March, and Peregrines usually lay an egg every 2 days until the clutch, or full number of eggs laid, is finished. The incubation period for a Peregrine egg is about 30 days, so the chicks should start hatching on 26 April.
You may notice I used words like “usually” and “about” to describe egg laying and incubation period. As much as we know about birds, there are still variables that could make small changes in number of days between eggs laid and egg development during incubation. If our female had 3 days between, say, egg 3 and 4, then the hatching date could be off by a day or 2. If mom had to leave the eggs to, say, defend the nest from another bird of prey, egg development could have slowed, which may change the hatch date. Most birds usually (there, I used it again) won’t start constant incubation until the full clutch is laid. This delay in incubation makes it so all the eggs hatch in about 24 hours. In the Peregrine world, mom and dad will feed those chicks that push, squabble and get closest to mom/dad as they present the food. Birds grow so quickly that if there were 2 days between the ages of each chick, the first 2 or 3 hatched would be bigger, stronger and would probably get most of the food, and the 2 smallest would more likely perish. Having all the chicks hatch within 24 hours makes it so they are roughly the same size, and each will have a great shot at getting their fair share of the food and surviving to fledgling (flying from the nest).
So far, I’ve had no questions to answer. Let’s get to it, folks! Put a challenging question out there for me to tackle. I look forward to any and all questions you may have.
March 18th, 2019
Hello everyone! Yesterday morning (18 March) we found the first egg in the nest. This signifies the start of the 8th year we will show you the nesting lives of Ameren Missouri’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine Falcon pair. For those of you that have watched over the years, you will probably notice the box is in the same location as all years past. Back in early January I replaced the gravel in the box and gave the box a good inspection. It’s more than sound enough to house our Peregrine pair and their chicks for another year.
The gentleman that runs the camera has been keeping a close eye on the box, and he and I have already determined we have the same male and female as last year. As a refresher, the female is a 2006 hatch and was banded as a chick in a cliff nest at a state park in Minnesota. This is her 5th year as Portage de Sioux’s breeding female. The male is a 2004 hatch, and this is his 3rd year as the breeding male. He was raised in captivity and released to the wild (the process known as hacking) at a power plant in New Madrid, Missouri. Of course, we know the histories of each bird because of the bands they have on their legs. If you get a chance to see the legs as you watch, the female has a 2-colored band, black over green, with a sideways D in the black field and a sideways V in the green field. The male also has a black over green band, with a normal D in the black and a 53 in the green. If you have the privilege to see both birds at the nest box, the female is considerably larger than the male, which is typical with birds of prey.
I’m looking forward to again fielding your questions as the nesting season unfolds. I’m very excited that we are able to watch again, and I wish our nesting pair the best of luck for the 2019 season.
June 26th, 2018
Hello all! Apologies for the lateness of this last of the 2018 Peregrine Cam season’s ASK JEFF. The team was trying to get the exact last day the chick was seen at or near the nest, and we came up with 7 June. During the last few days we saw her she was on top of the box and on the I-beams behind and to the left of the box. Whenever one of her parents came back with prey, they’d fly into the nest and the chick would come scrambling back to get her meal. During these later days the chick would just grab the prey and go someplace else with it. At the very least, she would turn away from the parent and spread her wings and tail out, hiding the prey from the parent. In the bird of prey world, this behavior is called mantling.
There were a couple great questions over the last 3 weeks!
A person watching adult Peregrines nesting in a box on the Throgs Neck Bridge that crosses the Hudson River in New York state saw 3 adults at the box (the box had young chicks in it), and the adults seemed to be getting along! As you might guess, the large majority of Peregrine pairs (and bird pairs) in the world do not tolerate any other adults in their nesting territory, and vigorously attack any Peregrine that comes into their territory. However, there are some cases of one adult male having two breeding females in his territory. The one instance I read about happened near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Through chick blood sampling it was proven that the adult male was the father of all the chicks. His two females nested in separate places, though. I personally would find it hard to believe that there were 2 females in the same box, or there were 2 males in the same territory with one female, but this is the thing about nature, folks. It is rare that you can be absolute about anything. If the person who wrote to me about the Throgs Neck trio would like to write again if he/she has gathered new information about these Peregrines, that would be fine with me.
Another person asked if/how we track the chicks. We have never placed any kind of transmitter on any of the 26 chicks that have been produced at Ameren’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center since we placed the nest camera, but with every chick we do place a colored band on one of the legs. These bands have two colored fields, one on top of the other. I’ve placed black over green, black over red and black over blue bands on the chicks over the years. Each colored field has letters and/or numbers within each field. The size of these numbers/letters and the colored fields each number/letter is in make it easy to see, especially with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Because of these bands I’ve gotten many band returns over the years, giving me information about chicks I banded, and I’ve given many colored band sightings to my Peregrine banding colleagues. These bands are how we know our male was hacked at a power plant in southern Missouri in 2006 and our female was banded at a cliff nest in Minnesota the same year. These bands may not be as good as a satellite transmitter on a bird, but we still are able to collect lots of information we otherwise wouldn’t know.
With the transmitters, the chicks have to be full grown because the transmitters are placed on the bird’s back using Teflon straps that make a harness. With the optimal banding age being about 20 days old, I could not put a harness on such a young bird because it still would have so much growing to do. To use a satellite transmitter you have to catch the full grown youngsters using falconry trapping methods. Maybe one day we will place a satellite transmitter on one of our young birds.
My, how time flies (pun intended) when you are having fun. The 2018 Peregrine Cam season saw some tragedy and also a miracle. With our living chick falling from the nest box at such a young age, most would have thought it would have perished. Yet, with the hard and timely work of the Falcon Cam team and the World Bird Sanctuary’s rehabilitation staff, we were able to nurse the chick to good health and get it back into the box fast enough where the parents still wanted to care for it. The miracle chick went through the rest of its nest life without issue and left the nest to destinations unknown. We all hope one day someone spots the band and we find our miracle chick has become part of a breeding pair somewhere else in the world. Thanks to all of you that wrote in with questions, to the rest that intently watched our Peregrine Falcons, and I look forward to writing to all of you in 2019!
June 6th, 2018
Hi Folks. I just looked at our chick, 6 June at 1:55 pm, and she was standing on top of the box! With all the signs she’s giving us, I’ll say again it could be anytime now she will leave the nest box forever. Several of you wrote in this morning saying the chick was gone. Maybe it is running the I-beams to the left and behind the box and then came back.
I’ve never seen the behaviors myself, but have read accounts of what Peregrine parents will do to coax their kids into taking their first flight. With their eyesight being so sharp, you know a Peregrine chick can spot one of its parents flying from literally a mile away. The chicks will also immediately notice if the parent they are looking at has prey in its feet. To make it even more obvious, the parents will fly close to the nest and even bank to whichever side that will make the prey in their feet even more obvious to the chick(s). With the chicks always being hungry, they can’t help but take that first jump to try to chase the parent with the meal.
Today our lone female chick is 44 days old. Her juvenile colored feathers are almost fully grown in. When the feathers are growing, each one has a blood supply going to it. When the feather is at full length, the blood supply stops. With Peregrine Falcons the first 2 inches or so of the fully grown, large wing and tail feathers is hollow. Partially hollow feathers are probably an adaptation for flight. The lighter the body, the easier it is to fly.
So much growth, whether it be feathers or the rest of the body, is the main reason young birds are always hungry. Once a bird has all its feathers it will never again have to worry, if you will, about growing in so many feathers in at once. Each feather on a Peregrine has a life expectancy of about 2 years. As tough as they are, feathers do have a shelf life. To keep a bird symmetrical as it flies, only the corresponding feather on each wing will molt, or be lost, and when those 2 replacement feathers are done growing in another 2 will molt, and so on. The bird can molt in 2 or more tail and body, or contour, feathers at once, since those feathers aren’t as important to flapping flight.
Now to your questions; someone asked about the life expectancy of Peregrine Falcons. Once they make it through their first year they can live to 15 or so years old. The first year of life is hard for any animal on the planet, with 60%-80% dying during this time frame. Once they gain a year’s experience in dealing with all nature has to throw at them, they have a better chance of living a longer life.
Another questions is whether birds remember a traumatic experience. With all the training I’ve done and seen done with birds, I know for sure that they remember a bad experience. At World Bird Sanctuary we keep all experiences positive when training, but if an individual has a negative experience, you can tell by behaviors afterword that they remember. The person who wrote the question pertained it to this chick falling from the nest at an early age. While this bad experience might have some baring on this chick leaving the nest, ultimately the need to fly will prevail, and she will take flight. One other thing; birds don’t want to fly, as we humans might think. Yes, to us flight would be breathtaking and symbolize freedom. To a bird flight is a means of transportation to food, a mate, water and leaving a nesting area when cold weather comes.
As I mentioned in the last ASK JEFF, once the chick leaves the nest I’ll write one final ASK JEFF for the 2018 Ameren Missouri Portage de Sioux Energy Center Peregrine Cam season. I’ll talk to you sometime soon!
June 5th, 2018
Hello All! Today our chick is 39 days old. I just finished watching her (1 June at about 10:15 am), and she was jumping quickly from nest box floor to front edge and then back into box again. After this seemingly strenuous activity, she plopped down on the box floor, and she seemed to be falling asleep. On these hot days and especially after getting a meal (which she probably did earlier in the morning), the chicks seem to want to nap away the heat of the day. Back in 1985 when I first started with WBS, I had the privilege of monitoring our first ever hacked Peregrine Falcons, which we released from a hack box on the then Pet Incorporated building in downtown St. Louis (this building is now the Pointe 400 building and has been converted to apartments….and by the way, has had a pair of Peregrines nesting on it for the last 3 years!). As a quick refresher, hacking is releasing captive raised birds of prey to the wild. Hacking had a major roll in bringing the Peregrine back from the brink of extinction. I can remember watching the 2 young Peregrines we released, after they had fledged from the hack box, laying down on a shady ledge and falling asleep during the hottest part of the day. Yes, we interns monitoring the young falcons found it hard to not do the same thing! As another refresher, the current adult male of Ameren’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center was hacked from a box in 2004 at a power plant in New Madrid, Missouri.
The only question I had over the week was asking about a strange behavior the female was exhibiting as she stood in the nest box along side the chick. The behavior was described as throwing her head back several times with her mouth opened. While Peregrines perform behaviors that even the best behaviorists have a hard time figuring out, I do believe I can explain this one. All birds have very efficient digestive systems that process food quickly so this food isn’t weighing them down very long. As efficient as their digestive systems are, the system can’t digest everything the bird swallows. With Peregrines eating mostly other birds, you might guess that as they swallow the meat and bones from the prey item, Peregrines will also swallow many feathers during the meal. Peregrines cannot digest feathers. As the digestive juices within the stomach dissolve the meat and bones, the movements of the stomach compact the feathers into a pellet that’s shaped roughly like an egg. About once a day, and usually in the morning, the pellet is regurgitated from the mouth. I get to see the nest floors when I visit nests to band chicks, and the floor is littered with pellets. Yes, you can take apart dried pellets to see what birds a Peregrine has been eating.
When a bird gets ready to “throw” a pellet the back of their neck arches up and their moth opens wide. As the pellet moves up the esophagus the bird will shake its head side to side to expel the pellet. We naturalists at WBS get to see this behavior all the time from the birds we handle on a daily basis. Sometimes the pellet doesn’t come up in one piece. When this happens a bird will throw its head in many directions, including over its back, to bring up the rest of the pellet. I believe the viewer with the question was seeing our female with a small piece of pellet somewhat stuck in her esophagus. No worries, folks. I’ve seen our mom several times since the day the viewer saw her, and she’s fine and dandy!
At 39 days old our chick could be leaving the box over the next 7 or so days. If she chooses to walk the I-beams our camera man will do his best to find her so we can keep watching. If she flies away from the box I’ll write one last ASK JEFF for the season. Of course, like all of you I’ll hope we get to watch her for as many days as possible.
May 21, 2018
Hello everyone! I’ll give you a quick refresher from my ASK JEFF 7, written Monday 14 May.
When I went to band the chicks last Monday, 14 May, both chicks were not in the nest box. One had fallen to its death and the other was on grating about 8 feet below the nest box. The living chick was brought back to World Bird Sanctuary’s Wildlife Hospital to make sure it hadn’t suffered any broken bones or other injuries when it fell. On Tuesday X-rays were negative, and for the next 3 days the chick was rehydrated and fed well. Yesterday afternoon I placed the bands on each leg.
This morning, 18 May, Mike Zeloski, long time WBS staff member and I took the chick back to Portage de Sioux Energy Center and placed it back in the box. Mom and dad were there still defending the nest, which was great to see. I climbed to the box and put the chick back in, all the while being pummeled on the helmet by mom.
The big event we needed to see was mom coming to the box and feeding the chick. If chicks are gone from the box too long, both parents could lose the drive to want to care for any chick. Within 15 minutes the female brought food into the box and fed the chick! We were ecstatic!
In the wild Peregrine Falcon world nature takes its tole on especially the chicks. Within their first year of life, 60% to 80% of all chicks will die. Living in the wild is a hard life. In this case we were able to reverse the trend. Regardless of how many times the female raked her talons across my helmeted head, it was so rewarding to let the chick slip from my hands and hop to the back of the box, turn around and hiss at me. I wished her (yes, the chick is a female) luck, did the same with mom, and we all got out of there to let the parents go on raising the chick.
A special thanks goes out to all who helped with getting the chick back into its nest box. You all rock!
May 15, 2018
Hi Folks. There were 5 of us WBS staffers that left this morning for the Portage de Sioux Energy Center, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to collect and band the 2 chicks in the nest box. I for one checked the camera Friday afternoon before leaving work and saw 2 chicks, as I expected, slumbering in the box in between meals brought in by mom. I didn’t check the box during the weekend.
This morning I was first to leave the safety of the structure that supports the large stack at the energy center. Again, as expected, mom was right there to “greet” me, diving in close and striking my helmet 2 times before I could get within the relative safety of the I-beams leading up to and supporting the box. I found parts of several prey items at 24 feet below the box. I’ve found many of these things over the years, so one more time, all completely expected. It was when I looked up at the grating just below the box that things started to seem wrong. There on the grating, about 12 feet below and behind the box, was one of the chicks. At 21 days old, the chicks are still quite helpless and definitely cannot fly. So, why would one of the chicks be so far from the box?
Rather than asking anyone questions, I climbed the ladder to get to the chick, stepped onto the grating and took the chick into my hands. It was certainly alive, but not completely well. As I examined it, Dawn Griffard, WBS’s executive director, got to the top of the ladder, and I handed her the chick. The mom Peregrine continued to swoop in and hit our helmets as I hoisted the crate up that would house the chicks as we took them to the building where we would band them. Also hoisted up was the ladder that would help get me the last 10 feet to the box, along with some safety equipment. After a few more minutes I hooked myself in and climbed to the box. I peered around its left side to find that the second chick was gone.
For the 45 seconds it took to look into the box mom peregrine stuck my helmet 5 times, so I ducked back down to the lower lever to assess the facts. We found out that early last Saturday afternoon a strong, straight line wind hit the energy center. The wind was strong enough to suck both chicks from the box. Just in front of the nest box it drops 167 feet to the ground, so we all agreed it was a miracle that this chick was somehow blown to the grating below the nest and survived. Upon further observation we were able to spot the second chick. It was on a ledge 100 feet below us, and unfortunately it was dead.
Because of the compassion we have for these noble birds, one cannot help but feel great sorrow when things like this happen. Of all the birds I have had the privilege of studying and working with in my life, Peregrine Falcons are my favorite. As much as I am grieving for the lost chick, my knowledge of nature lets me grieve only so long. As much as I love to watch the chicks grow and be able to see the incredible parents so up close and personal, I keep a certain objectivity about these wild birds because I know nature can randomly select in favor of tragedy. Yes, tragedy has happened to our Peregrine family, but there’s nothing anyone could have done about such a random act of nature (a big wind in this instance) coming in and taking one of the chicks. Of the many thousands of Peregrine nests in the U.S., it is inevitable that many of them will experience the loss of chicks, or even total failure, because of nature. I can console in reminding everyone of the 30 chicks our 2 set of parents have raised and fledged from this box.
About the surviving chick; the WBS team in attendance this morning was lucky to have within its ranks Bethany Spiegel, our rehabilitation coordinator. Her initial assessment of the bird showed only dehydration from lack of being fed, so we brought the chick with us to our rehabilitation hospital. The bird will be x-rayed the morning of 15 May to make sure there are no broken bones.
There are 3 scenarios for the chick’s future.
#1, there’s a chance the chick could be placed back in the box later this week. With only a few days from underneath mom Peregrine’s watchful eye, she would continue to care for the chick as if nothing happened.
#2, if the chick has to be separated from its parents more than a week because of a more extensive injury, we could not put it back in its box. Such a long separation means the parents would lose the drive to care for chicks. However, WBS would foster the chick to an area nest with similar aged chicks or send the chick to another area that has chicks of a similar age. We have a great network of fellow Midwest Peregrine banders, so finding a nest would pose little problem, and fostering has been very successful with many species of raptors (including Peregrines).
#3, if the chick has an injury that would make its wild survival impossible, WBS would gladly accept and train the bird for use in our education programs. Many of our education ambassadors have injuries that make them permanent captives, and with the right training and care, this Peregrine would help especially children learn about the species.
Our number 1 goal is to get the bird back into the wild, and we will do our best to achieve this. Rest assured I will keep you all informed of our miracle chick.
May 11, 2018
Hello everyone! Wow, do our chicks grow fast. Today is 11 May, making the kids 18 days old. When they were hatched they were each about an ounce and a half. At 18 days of age males will be about 12 ounces and females about 16 ounces, or one pound. That’s an 1,100% increase in weight for females and an 800% increase for males. Their high protein diet of other birds helps them grow up quick. Raptor chicks are altricial, which means they are hatched helpless and need a lot of parental care to become juveniles that may successfully leave the nest and start their own lives. This is compared to precocial, like wild turkey chicks, that can walk and even fly short flights just hours after hatching. All chicks grow quickly, since youngsters in nature are more vulnerable to predators. Peregrine chicks getting big and leaving the nest quickly means less predators can catch and eat them.
There were few questions over the last week, and some of the ones I had I’d already answered in the last Ask Jeff. However, I am happy to write again about the 2 unhatched eggs. We’ll probably never know why they didn’t hatch. Some reasons could be, a) small cracks in the eggs that allowed bacteria to enter, b) mom and dad are quite old for wild Peregrines (12 and 14 years old respectively) meaning their internal organs might not be working as well as when they were younger, or c) the eggs could have gotten cooled for too long a time span and died from this. With the hard freezes and cold days we had in mid April, I would vote for c. If mom had to leave the eggs to help the male chase away a potential territory rival or aerial predator, the eggs could have gotten chilled for too long.
I just looked on the web cam and couldn’t see the 2 unhatched eggs. As the chicks got bigger and moved around the nest they could have broken the eggs, or pressure could have built up because of extreme bacterial action and the eggs popped. If the eggs are there when I collect the chicks for banding, I’ll remove them from the nest.
Speaking of banding, I’ll go to the nest on Monday morning, 14 May and remove the chicks for about an hour for banding and drawing a small amount of their blood for analysis. The blood will be tested for toxins that could have entered the eggs as they were developing in the mother. Peregrines became endangered because of the pesticide DDT, which entered the parents because the DDT was within their prey. If someone had been looking at Peregrine chick blood in the 1950’s, maybe we could have stopped using DDT soon enough to keep Peregrines from becoming endangered (they became endangered in 1972 and were taken off the federal endangered list in 1998). This is the thinking behind current blood analysis. If we find a trend in a toxin showing up in their blood, we can hopefully do something about it to keep the species from again becoming endangered.
When banding I’ll also find out what sex each chick is. I’ll let you all know early next week. Until then, keep watching!
May 2, 2018
Hello All! First, I want to say thank you very much for all your emails trying to help with viewing the bands on each of the parents. In the end the person that controls the camera and I figured out that we have the same male as last year, and the same female as the last 3 years. The male was hacked, or released, as a young falcon at a power plant in north central Missouri in 2004. The female was banded as a chick at a cliff nest in 2006 at a state park in Minnesota. For reasons we will never figure out, the parents never presented their color banded legs to the camera until each started feeding the chicks. Then it became easy to get their ID’s.
This year we have only 2 chicks from the 4 eggs that were laid. There could be many reasons the other 2 eggs didn’t hatch, including small cracks that let bacteria into the eggs, eggs got cooled for too long a time period and died, the eggs didn’t get fertilized correctly when they were still in the female, etc. Also, our female is 12 years old now and the male 14. In the wild Peregrine world each has reached the upper limits of their lives. Maybe internal organs aren’t working as efficiently as they once did.
The 2 chicks hatched on 23 April, which means I will be banding them on 14 May. They’ll be 21 days old on banding day. Once the chicks reach 17-18 days old their legs and feet are full sized. This means I can safely place the correct sized bands on their legs, of course after measuring their legs. Males are a third smaller than females. They get a size 6 band, and the females get a size 7A band.
Now to the great questions I received over the last week.
Several asked when the chicks fledge. On the average the males fledge at about 45 days old and the females about 55 days old. If my math is correct, the chicks should be fledging in mid June. They are still too young to tell what sex each is, and until I actually have my hands on them it’ll be just speculation on their sexes.
Another asked how the male gets the prey to the female so she can feed the babies. In case you don’t know, the female does the majority of feeding the babies, especially during the first 20-25 days of their lives. As mentioned earlier, mom is the larger of the 2 sexes, and one of the reasons we think she’s larger is to better defend the nest from other aerial or ground predators. So, dad catches, kills and plucks most of the prey during these early days. Then he’ll fly by the nest. Mom sees he has prey, then she’ll fly out and in mid air the male will transfer the prey to mom. Peregrines are one of the most maneuverable of all birds of prey, so it would be quite spectacular to be able to see the transfers happen. Maybe one day there will be Peregrine cameras that swivel and focus fast enough to follow the female as she receives the prey for her chicks.
Finally someone asked if the bright lights of the Portage de Sioux Energy Center are any kind of detriment to the Peregrines. My short answer would be no. If anything, the lights may allow the Peregrines to hunt further into the night. There are hundreds of bird species that migrate at night, so if these birds are passing through the lights they could become prey for our falcons. Many years ago I read a very interesting account of Peregrines living in the Chicago area preying on bats after dark. There was enough light given off by all the buildings in that huge city where the Peregrines could see bats well enough to catch them. We have 2 other energy centers in the greater St. Louis area that have nesting Peregrines, and I know there are many other power plants in the nation that have nesting Peregrines. With all this Peregrine action, it seems to me the lights don’t disturb the Peregrines at all. Plants that produce energy for we humans are located near large bodies of water. Water is needed for many reactions and cooling processes, hence their locations. Most of these plants have high buildings or stacks, which are ideal places for Peregrines to hunt from (before humans Peregrines nested and still do nest on cliffs above rivers and oceans). Especially the Mississippi River, with it mostly north to south flow, has many bird species that use it and its flood plain as a migration corridor. Peregrines feed almost exclusively on birds, so plants and even other tall buildings near water are ideal places for Peregrines to live.
2017 Season Finale
“My, how time flies when you are having fun!” That statement means that time seems to move faster when fun is being had. If Peregrine Falcons could read, they might take the statement 2 ways. First, Peregrines are the fastest creatures in the world, with an individual female Peregrine topping out at 261 MPH as she dove past her skydiving falconer chasing a lure he had dropped. Of course, Peregrines don’t use their speed to have fun. They use their incredible speed to survive, giving them an advantage at catching their prey; other birds.
A young Peregrine just spilling from its eggshell might modify the statement to, “Time flies when you are growing up.” Every one of us that watched the chicks this year, as well as years past, would attest to the modified statement. Hatching to leaving the nest, or fledging, could cover a mere 50 days, give or take 5, and they are even full grown a few days before that. My daughter is fledging in August, leaving home to attend the University of Arkansas. Her fledgling period will cover 18 years and almost 3 months. So weather you are talking speed or growth, our Peregrines spend their lives in the fast lane.
In comparing this year’s kids to years past, I think this year gave us quite a show! Of the 6 nesting seasons we have had the camera trained on Ameren Missouri’s Sioux Energy Center nest box, there’s been only 2 seasons where we’ve had 5 chicks hatch. Last season had the fewest kids with 2 hatchlings. This year’s kids stayed in the box or within camera shot extra long. The Peregrine Cam team’s awesome film footage searcher was able to catch all 5 in the box on 7 June, which is more than 60 days after they had hatched. The oldest 3 had already left the box, but for whatever reason came back to be caught on camera with the younger 2. The youngest, chick, which was the last to leave the box, stayed in camera range until 14 June, which was 73 days after hatching. It could have easily left the box over 3 weeks before that. Whether they stay 50 or 75 days, watching our falcon chicks grow and the parents tend to them is one of the best things I get to do in any one year. Only thing better is getting to visit this and many other Peregrine nests in the St. Louis area to put the ever-important bands on the chicks.
There are so many people to thank, but you all know who you are, so I’ll leave it at that. Our Peregrine Cam was brought to you through a huge team effort, with the major players being Ameren Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation and World Bird Sanctuary. Together we hope to bring you our Peregrine Cam for many nesting seasons to come. As always, I very much enjoyed writing the weekly ASK JEFF’s, and thank you for asking so many thought provoking questions. I’m signing off for now, but look forward to writing to you in 2018!
June 7, 2017
Hello all! Apologies for being somewhat late with this week’s ASK JEFF. Lots of World Bird Sanctuary business going on this week.
As you all can probably tell, 4 of the 5 kids have been in and out of the box, with several even perching on the top of the box. It’s probably safe to say we are close to the time when they will leave the box for good. Still, there could be many cool encounters to still view. The youngest of the 5 was in the box mid afternoon of Sunday, 11 June. I could tell it was the youngest one because of all the down still on its head and back. Even being the youngest, it’s quite capable of short flights, and could definitely save itself if it flew out and away from the box. As with most young Peregrines taking their first flights, it’s a fairly safe bet it would go to the ground. The Portage de Sioux Energy Center workers have found many of the youngsters in years past, and have just taken them up close to the box, where both parents will continue to feed them for the next 2-4 weeks.
Most of this week’s questions were based on the youngest chick still hanging close to or in the box. Baby birds grow so fast that even 2-3 days between the youngest and next youngest makes for big differences in coloration and development. That youngest bird still has more down on it than the next youngest, and wouldn’t be quite as coordinated as the older babies. However, it’s development seems quite normal to me, and I’m expecting it will be joining its older nest mates on top of and out behind the box as it starts to make its short flights and develop its coordination in becoming the fastest creature on earth.
May 31, 2017
Hello All! Wow, do those Peregrine chicks grow fast! As of today, 1 June, the smaller babies are 31 days old and the larger, more feathered ones are 33 days old Soon you won’t be able to tell which ones were hatched on 29 April and which ones were hatched on 1 May At about 45 days of age the chicks will be full grown, even though they still may have some downy feathers showing Forty-five days is about the time, give or take 4-5 days, they will be making their maiden flight from the area of the nest box I say “area” because with all the I-beams underneath the nest box, years past kids have run around on those I-beams before flying.
Several of you asked some good questions over the week Someone asked what happens when violent weather comes through, and if the babies migrate when the weather turns cold.
As far as lightning strikes, the stack that’s about 50 feet away from the nest is about 750 feet tall, and the box is at the 163 feet mark on the stack If lightning strikes, it’s bound to strike the higher stack, and of course the stack has major lightning rods that would disperse the charge to ground The box is securely attached to the I-beams mentioned earlier, so it would take a tornado touching down within feet of it to blow it off its moorings As far as the chicks in the box…it’s feasible they could be blown from the box during a big wind Acts of nature certainly take their toll on all wildlife There’s nothing any human can do about it With the success the parents have had at our nest box, luck has definitely been on our side, and we can only hope it will continue well into future nesting seasons.
Well before cold weather hits the St. Louis area, the chicks from all of the 8 active nests in the area have left their parent’s territories, and who knows where they will go Peregrine in Latin means “wanderer,” and it’s not out of the question that one of the chicks I banded this year could be sighted at the southern tip of South America in months to come.
Another question asked was what’s the frequency with the male as compared to the female feeding the chicks Until the babies are about 15 days old, the male does all the hunting, for the chicks and the adult female Once the babies can regulate their own body heat, then the female starts to hunt for the brood, too Once this starts to happen, I would have to guess the parents each bring prey at an equal rate The female, being larger, has the potential of bringing larger prey to the nest; up to the size of the smaller duck species, like Blue-winged Teal.
The last question this week was if the parents teach the chicks how to fly It’s been scientifically proven that birds are hatched knowing how to fly They don’t have to see any kind of bird flying, let alone their parents, and they can jump from their nests and fly away Peregrine parents do, however, coax the kids into flying On 31 May I was viewing another of the St. Louis area Peregrine nests at Washington University’s Medical School I watched the adult male fly by the nest 3 separate times with prey in his feet The chicks, about 8 days older than our chicks, are just about to leave the nest, but 20 minutes before were fed a pigeon by the adult female The male flying by with prey at this particular time didn’t coax any of the Wash. U. chicks to take their initial flight, but it was quite obvious what the male was doing.
The Peregrine Cam will be turned off once we know the chicks are gone from the area of the box, but that could take another 2 weeks At the very least, I’ll be talking to you next week Thanks for watching, and keep those questions coming!
May 17, 2017
Hello All! We Have 5 Bouncing, Healthy Chicks!
Banding/blood draw day was today, and it couldn’t have gone any better. I had my hands on all 5 babies, and despite the size difference between the 3 hatched 29 April and the 2 hatched 1 May, all the kids are healthy and seem to be getting their fair share of the prey mom and dad bring to the box. There are 3 boys and 2 girls. One of the chicks hatched 1 May is a girl, and despite the size difference between her and the 3 older chicks, the size of her legs and feet told me she is a she. I liken bird of prey growth to puppy growth. For those of you that have raised a puppy, I’m sure you noticed that the legs and feet seem to grow first, then the rest of the dog growth catches up over a few weeks. Even though our falcon babies are 17 and 19 days old today, their feet and legs are close to full size. When something on a wild animal is so important to the livelihood of that animal as they grow and become independent, evolution provides quick development of that something. The legs and feet of a bird of prey are not only used for perching, but are used for catching, killing and eating prey.
Mother Peregrine was as aggressive as she has been over the past 2 years. When I was at the box extracting then replacing the chicks my helmeted head was struck by her talons so many times I couldn’t count. Father Peregrine even got into the act! Normally the male expresses his disapproval of me being at his nest by fast fly-bys and lots of screaming, but the fly-bys never really come that close. Because the male’s usually much smaller than the female, his voice is higher pitched. The same is true with our pair, and I could always tell where in the sky the male was as we made ready for me to get to the nest box. As I was placing the chicks back in the box, the female came by at a high rate of speed, hit my helmet, and as she flew on by to my right, she continued her yelling. Suddenly I was struck in the helmet again, and the only thing that could have done it was the male! He’s by far the most aggressive male I’ve ever experienced.
Despite the beating I took, I’m still and will always be in love with these birds. There’s nothing like being under the feet of this fastest of all earth’s creatures. Their grace, beauty, and shear athletic abilities will always impress me, whether I’m watching from afar or, um, in close quarters. All this, including having the chicks in my hands, only inspires to continue the work we do to keep the Peregrine population healthy. The bands placed on the chicks today will hopefully help us gain ever more knowledge about their nesting habits and movements over the planet (Peregrines are the long distance migrating champions of the raptor world). For instance, earlier this week I got a call from a birder who is watching a pair of Peregrines nesting on the Mississippi River bluff close to the Piasa bird, near Alton, Illinois. Because of the colored bands we place on the chicks and the spotting scopes and binoculars we birders use, I now know the male of this pair was banded by me at the Portage de Sioux Energy center on 17 May 2013. How’s that for the fruits or our labors paying off?
A special thank you goes out to Ameren Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation for their help in making our Peregrine Cam possible. Here’s to all the hours we spend on the phone, and the actual work we do to bring you the Peregrine Cam and to help preserve the Peregrine Falcon.
May 10, 2017
Hello All! Our chicks are growing quickly, as we always expect. The high protein diet consisting of almost strictly other birds helps the chicks become full grown around 50 days of age. Male chicks fledge, or leave the nest at about 45 days old and the females fledge at about 55 days old.
We have some very interesting footage of mother falcon trying to fit all the chicks under her when we had the cool weather last week. As a reminder, the chicks have to reach a certain size before they can regulate their own body temperature. So, the chicks are more like their distant reptilian relatives until they are about 10-12 days old. Mom has to brood, or keep the chicks warm until then. The footage starts with the 5 chicks huddled together. We don’t have audio with our camera, but you can tell the chicks are making noise, and mom flies in soon after the footage starts. She proceeds to try to get all the chicks under her, but with 5 squirming chicks, all vying for the best, warmest position, mom has to change positions several times before everything is finally settled. It’s quite comical to watch!
Now to your questions. Many asked about the eggs that seem to be pushed away from the pile of chicks. Mom had 5 eggs this year, and all 5 hatched. The eggs away from the chicks are just the shells. As the chicks get bigger and move around the nest, the shells will get smashed and become one with the pea gravel that makes up the nest substrate.
Many asked about the 2 smaller chicks. This year 3 of the eggs hatched on 29 April and 2 hatched on 1 May. Usually all the eggs hatch on the same day, the theory being that if all the chicks are relatively the same size, then all will have an equal chance at grabbing the food as mom tears pieces off prey to give to them. I’ve watched a lot of footage since the chicks have hatched, and it seems all the chicks are getting their fair share of the food brought in by dad and fed by mom. Now and again it seems like a couple aren’t eating. They are probably just full from the feeding before, so just don’t need as much as the others. Dad is bringing in prey at a feverish pace to keep up with the demand.
We will band the chicks on Thursday, 18 May. While we are extracting he chicks then putting them back in the nest, there will be a pause in camera footage. The camera will not be able to be seen by the public starting early that morning. We start the extraction/banding process at 9 and should have the camera back on no later than noon that day. I’ll wait to do the “ASK JEFF” until I’m back at my office that afternoon so I can tell you all about the day, number of boys compared to girls, feathers of prey items, overall health of the chicks, etc.
Can’t wait to talk to you next week!
May 3, 2017
Hello All! We have 5 bundles of joy keeping warm under our Peregrine mom. Thanks to our viewers, we know that 3 babies hatched on Saturday, 29 April, and the other 2 hatched on Monday, 1 May. The pair had 5 eggs, so we can safely say we had 100% hatchability for 2017. You can still see what look like whole eggs within the nest box, but they are just the empty shells.
For those first-time viewers of our Peregrine camera, you will all be amazed at how fast the babies grow. When hatched, the babies each way about an ounce. By the time I band the chicks, which will be 18 May, the male chicks will be about 3/4ths of pound and the females a few ounces over that! For all altricial (need constant parental care until they leave the nest) baby birds, it’s to their advantage to grow fast because the quicker they leave the nest, the less vulnerable they are to predators such as raccoons and snakes.
We had a few more questions this week as compared to weeks past. One viewer asked if there are consistent times of day when the eggs hatch. There are not. In 2014 and 2015 I remember the eggs hatching overnight. From what I have gathered, the eggs this year hatched during the day on Saturday the 29th and one overnight of 30 April/1 May and the last the morning of 1 May. Because the female almost always waits until the last egg of the clutch is laid before she starts to sit tight, the eggs usually hatch during the same day. This phenomenon is to make sure there aren’t chicks that are a lot bigger than the last chicks to hatch. If the oldest 2 chicks had the growth head start of 4-6 days, they would be so much bigger than the others chicks that they would out compete the smaller ones for food when the parents showed up with prey. The “playing field” is much more even if the chicks all hatch in one day. So, with there being 2 days between the first 3 hatched and last 2 hatched, hopefully we won’t see competition keep the 2 younger babies from getting their fair share of the food.
Another asked if both parents roost, or spend the night at the box. In most cases the male roosts somewhere else, and only mom stays at the nest with the chicks. There is seemingly plenty of room for both birds and at least young chicks to all stay in the box at night. However, when mom is at the box and doesn’t need to leave for any reason, she is in such protective mode that she would probably even chase her mate away. Once the checks are about half grown, they can regulate their own body heat, and with the outside temperature moderating anyway and the box getting crowded, the female starts to spend the night at another roost. While the chicks are young as they are now, they can’t regulate their own body heat. At this stage in their lives, they are much more like their distant reptilian relatives (cold blooded). If not being brooded (kept warm) by mom, they could perish due to exposure. This mom has a proven track record of great parental care.
April 26, 2017
I looked at our female at about 9:45 central on Friday, 28 April. The front of her body was facing the camera, but her head was tucked behind her left wing. This position, with head tucked under a wing, is the typical position a bird sleeps in. Usually a bird is standing on its feet when it sleeps, but of course in this case the female’s body has an important position to maintain as the warmth from her body incubates her 5 eggs (the only 2 questions over the week had to do with the number of eggs the female has).
After the full clutch of 5 eggs were laid, I predicted our Peregrine eggs would start hatching on 30 April. Because we are so close, and the fact another pair of St. Louis Peregrines does have chicks now (Washington University’s Medical School), her eggs could hatch any time. As they hatch she will become a little more restless, getting up and repositioning her body, since suddenly there will be movement under her. She may also help chicks from their eggs by pulling away the shell after the chick has pipped the circle of chips at the fat end of the egg (described in last week’s ASK JEFF). Pip is the official term for the baby breaking through the egg shell.
Of course, all of us watching want all the eggs to hatch. Last year this same female had 5 eggs, but only 2 hatched. Year before she had 4 eggs, and all of them hatched. I want to throw out the scenario that MAYBE none of the eggs will hatch. There are many reasons eggs don’t hatch. A few examples are bacteria entered a small crack in the egg, the egg wasn’t fertilized as it was in her body, the male didn’t have viable sperm, or the eggs got chilled because the parents had to leave the nest (could be many reasons for leaving the nest). As I’ve stated so many times, nature can seemingly be cruel to we humans. Hopefully we will see beautiful little chicks in a few days. As my mom used to say, “Keep your eyes peeled.” I’ll talk to you all next week!
April 21, 2017
Hello All!! As of 20 April we are an estimated 10 days from seeing the chicks under the female. I know that everyone watching is hoping to see all 5 eggs hatch. Having 5 chicks is rare, but our nest had 5 in 2012, the year we started the Peregrine Cam.
In anticipation of hatch day, I thought you’d be interested in what the chicks and parents go through just before, during and just after hatching. A day or 2 before hatching, the chicks will start to peep while still encased in the egg. Upon hearing the peeping, especially the female will make noises. The female calling is thought to encourage the chicks to emerge into their new world.
Emerging is quite the battle for the seemingly helpless chicks. Close to the fat end of the egg we will see a tiny chip in the egg. A chick has a point that protrudes from its beak just above the pointed end of the beak. This “egg tooth” allows the chick to jab at the shell and make the chip (the egg tooth disappears after about a week old). The chick then makes a circle of chips so the fat end of the egg falls off, allowing the chick to escape the “house” that was responsible for its safe development over the previous 30 or so days. After the chip circle is made, sometimes mom will help the chick the rest of the way out of the egg, gently breaking and pulling off pieces of shell with her beak. Moms have been known to eat the egg shells, probably to help replenish calcium in their bodies.
The chicks have fat abdomens, which mostly makes up the rest of the yolk that was their food while in the egg. It takes a day or 2 for the chicks to absorb the rest of the yolk, then they become hungry, and especially dad’s job of bringing prey becomes very important. Chicks grow at a phenomenal rate! When they fledge, or leave the nest, they are on average 50 days old and fully grown. Could you imagine if human kids grew that fast? It makes sense a chick grows fast, for once they can fly, they are vulnerable to less predators.
At hatching a Peregrine chick weighs about 30 grams (1 ounce). The chick emerges wet, but quickly dries, showing the thin, white layer of downy feathers over most of its body. Even with this layer of down, the chick’s body can’t generate its own heat. Baby birds are like their reptilian relatives (cold blooded), which is why mom must continue to sit on, or brood them. Once a Peregrine chick is about 10 days old, it becomes warm blooded, generating its own body heat for the rest of its life.
There was only one question from the week, and it was actually a story about a person seeing a Peregrine near their office, by the St. Louis airport. It brought to mind where people can have the best chance of seeing Peregrines during the non-nesting season. Once establishing a territory, Peregrines at this latitude stay on their territory year-round. So, you have a good chance of seeing a Peregrine in Clayton, MO, downtown St. Louis, around Washington University’s Medical School, near the Jefferson Barrack’s bridge in south St. Louis, and the Chain of Rocks bridge in north St. Louis. You have to be in the right place at the right time to see the Peregrines that pass through the St. Louis area on their long-distance migration from northern North America to points in the Gulf of Mexico, Central and South America. Back in January my son met his ride back to college at the cell phone lot near the west end of the St. Louis airport. I dropped my son off there, and while we waited for his ride I spotted an adult Peregrine sitting on a light post near the west end of the airport runway. Because of the vast expanses of treeless areas on and around the runway, it’s a good place for Peregrines to hunt. They have better chances of flying down and catching other birds in this area because of lack of cover.
I’ll talk to you all next week!
April 12, 2017
Apologies for skipping a week.There were no questions asked, but with mostly unexciting things going on at the nest, and many hours of it, it’s understood there would be few if any questions. I’m sure many of you have seen the female doze off as she passes the hours atop her 5 eggs. I believe I would do the same (and probably get pretty stiff), if I were in the same position for hours on end. Eggs should hatch about 30 April.
To help you view a little excitement, the best time to see the male bring food into the female is early morning, any time from first light to 8 o’clock. Almost always the female takes the food from him and leaves the nest, and the theory I think most accurate for no food in nest is so the nest stays as clean as possible. The male gets to incubate the eggs for 30 or so minutes. Watching the male get into position over the eggs is comical! The male is considerably smaller than the female, so that means less space between his legs and on his stomach to fit over the eggs. He will almost fall into position just after he daintily puts his balled-up feet on each side of the “bowl” of eggs. He must use his breast and his wings to keep the eggs under him. I’ll speculate he isn’t too comfortable for the time the female is having her breakfast.
There are several theories on why the male is smaller than the female in most raptors. One theory is a smaller bird makes for better maneuverability, so better to provide food for the female and eventually the family. I have a hard time accepting this theory because the female is more than capable of capturing food for herself and her growing chicks, once the chicks are big enough and she can safely leave the nest.
A couple of other theories are bigger bird fits over the eggs better and can better defend the nest from a potential predator, if needed. These theories are more acceptable for me.
The theory I believe most accurate is a bigger body can more easily produce the eggs, since producing eggs takes nutrients from the body. Flying is a strenuous exercise, so natural selection and time have allowed birds to shed weight in many ways, such as no teeth that grow from the jaw (birds have light weight beaks made of carotene), internal sexual organs that become larger and active only during the breeding season, and the largest bones in the body have hollow spaces within them. With females, there are spikes of bone that grow within these hollows. The spikes are called medullary bone. Since bones are mostly made of calcium, and calcium is the nutrient most needed for egg production, the medullary bone helps provide the needed calcium for egg production. Experiments have proven medullary bones becomes smaller during the nesting cycle, then grows back during the non-nesting cycle. Nature is so cool!
Talk with you all next week.
March 29, 2017
Hello to all of you! Our Peregrine pair has been busy over the week. When I wrote last week there were 3 eggs, and now we have 5 eggs, which is the same number we had last year. It’s very rare for a Peregrine pair to have 6 eggs, so our female probably has her full clutch now. Someone on the falcon cam team spotted the 5th egg on Monday, so in 28 days or so we should see the chicks hatch. Eggs are laid about every 2 days, and unless the weather is very cold, the female won’t “sit tight” on the eggs until the full clutch is laid. The theory on this delayed incubation is so all the chicks hatch within the same day or 2. If the female started to sit tight when the first egg was laid, then chicks would hatch every 2 days. The first 2 chicks would have such a head start on growth that they would eventually outcompete the younger chicks for food. The younger chicks would probably perish.Delayed incubation is nature’s way of making sure as many chicks as possible survive to fledging (flying away from the nest).
Now to your questions. Someone asked about nest defense against other predators. I can certainly vouch for how serious our female takes nest defense. When I go to the nest to collect the chicks on banding day, the female treats me just like any other predator that got too close to the nest. The last 2 years I’ve been directly under her feet as she attacked, and I have the scratches on my hardhat to prove it! If a bird of prey flies too close to the nest, both male and female will fly out and attack it. The attacks are usually high speed stoops, or dives at the predator, along with loud “kaks.” Because the falcons innately know that other birds of prey have strong feet and sharp talons, there’s usually no physical contact between defender and could-be aggressor. The falcons back up their attacks with so much speed, the other raptor quickly understands its mistake and leaves the area.
There are nocturnal predators that Peregrines don’t fair very well against. Great Horned Owls and if they can climb to the nest, raccoons will kill and eat parents and chicks. I can say with relative assurance that our nest box is placed where it’d be very, very hard for a raccoon to climb to it. The box is far away from good owl habitat, but if our pair was ever attacked, a Great Horned Owl would probably be the culprit. Please keep in mind that all wild animals have a hard life, and to any of these predators, a mouse, squirrel, pigeon or Peregrine is just another piece of protein that would help sustain them and their family.
Another asked how many other Peregrine pairs there are in the greater St. Louis area. As of 2016 there were 2 pairs that called downtown St. Louis home, a pair within Washington University’s Medical School complex, a pair further west in Clayton, pairs on the Jefferson Barracks bridge, the Chain of Rocks bridge, and at Ameren Missouri’s Labadie and Rush Island Energy Centers. At all the sites save the bridges, I have awesome volunteers that keep their eyes on the nests so I know when it’s time to band (I band the babies when they are 15-20 days old). There’s no one to keep eyes on the bridge pairs, and even if there were, it would take so much specialized equipment to get to the nests safely that I deem those nests unreachable.
World Bird Sanctuary
Finally, someone asked about bedding in the nest box. Pea gravel is the substrate of choice for Peregrine boxes, since is mimics what would probably be in cliff crevasses and ledges, which is where most “wild” Peregrines nest (our Peregrine pair is quite wild; their surroundings more urban). Pea gravel is great bedding because it’s easily moved around by the female so she can make her depression in the gravel, or “scrape,” and the eggs won’t roll out of the nest. It drains well so the eggs/chicks would never be sitting in a puddle of water from a hard rain…as long as I replace the gravel every 3-4 years. Because of all the uneaten prey parts, prey feathers, defecation and Peregrine feather dander that accumulate within the gravel, a hard crust can form an inch or so below the surface. This crust could become hard enough to let water puddle above it. I replaced the gravel in January 2016, so we are good for another couple years.
I look forward to answering your questions next week!
March 22, 2017
Hello one and all! I’m so happy to be able to answer your questions again; for the 6th year in a row. I already have some great questions that I’ll get to later on.
We turned on the camera Wednesday, 15 March. Just out of coincidence, I was the first one to spot the first egg this year, and that was 14 March. Lucky me! There are a few of us that get to watch through the camera before it’s turned on to the rest of you, and at 3:35 that afternoon I took a look. The male was sitting in the middle of the box, and almost immediately started to show signs of getting up. A few seconds later he did, and low and behold, there was the first egg. In 2012, the first year we had the camera, the female then (Sioux-Zee) laid her first egg on 10 March. This year is the second earliest to 2012.
This year we have the same female and male as last year. The male was banded in 2004 when he was released to the wild as a fledgling at a power plant in southern Missouri. The female was banded as a chick in 2006. Her nest was on a cliff in a state park in Minnesota. This is the second year the male has been with us, and this is the third year the female has been with us. As it stands today, 23 March, at 9:30 am, our Peregrine pair has 3 eggs. The third egg was spotted the morning of 22 March. Last year our pair had 5 eggs, but only 2 hatched. Both chicks fledged (flew from the nest) successfully.
Now to your questions. Someone asked how many chicks have successfully fledged the Portage de Sioux Energy Center nest box since the start of the Peregrine cam in 2012. The answer is 18. That’s 5 in 2012, 4 each in 2013 and 2014, 3 in 2015 and 2 last year. I actually banded 5 babies in 2011, the year before we started the camera. To take this a little further, we have had 2 adult males and 2 adult females on the energy center territory since 2012.
Someone else asked where the adult Peregrines go over the winter. I have been to the energy center several times over January and February since we started the camera, and all those times I’ve seen at least one adult Peregrine perched within 200 yards of the nest box. While it’s no guarantee the bird(s) I was looking at was one of our adults, chances are it was. Peregrines from this latitude usually stay the winter on their territory. Peregrines nest all the way to the Arctic circle, and those birds migrate long distances to escape the cold and follow their food source (mainly shore birds). “Peregrine” in Latin means, “wanderer,” and this describes those long-distance migrations. Peregrines migrate further than any other bird of prey, with some birds moving from the Arctic circle all the way to the southern tip of South America. Could you imagine the frequent flier miles those birds would rack up!
Finally, someone sent me a picture of a Peregrine as it perched on the Chain of Rocks bridge, which is a walk-across bridge spanning the Mississippi River a few miles north of downtown St. Louis. The photo clearly showed the colored band the bird sported on it’s right leg, and sure enough I could read the letters and numbers within the band’s colored fields. Turns out I banded this male Peregrine on 3 June 2015. It was one of 4 brothers in a nest box on the 43rd floor of the AT&T building in downtown St. Louis.
This is the power of bands, folks. We gain so much knowledge of these spectacular raptors from photos anyone can take. I know where each of the Portage de Sioux Energy Center adult birds came from because of their bands. I know where most of the other Peregrines that nest in the greater St. Louis area are from because of their bands. I’ve been able to identify at least 4 other Peregrines per year for the last 10-12 years all because of their bands. Being able to identify a bird like this gives me a thrill that’s hard to describe. My mind always wanders (like Peregrines do) to where each has been since the time it was banded, what it has seen in its travels, etc.
Keep those questions coming! I look forward to answering them next week.
March 15, 2016
Hello everyone! I don’t know if he wrote it, but Andy Williams sang a great version of the song the title of which is the title of this briefing. When Peregrines start to make ready for the nesting season, it’s one of the most wonderful times of my year!
As of 14 March at about 3:35 the first egg was spotted, so the camera will be turned on to the public on 15 March. A certain few of us have been looking through that wonderful Peregrine Cam lens to see that the male and female adult Peregrines from last year are probably the pair this year at Missouri’s Portage de Sioux Energy Center. I know the birds are the same because of the bands each have on their legs.
Courtship has been happening for the last 2-3 weeks. The pair does aerial displays together, they become more vocal when they are in close quarters, and when on a perch together, they bow to each other and scream loudly. When she’s not doing the active courtship things, the female spends most of her day perched on top, out in front, or right in the nest box.
The reason I said, “ probably” about last year’s pair being this year’s pair is because this is a time where territorial battles reach their height. The aerial battles are an incredible sight to behold. Other peregrines moving through the area on migration might think they can kick out their counterpart, as we saw in 2015. That is when the female from the last 2 years took over the territory. During that tumultuous time, I saw 2 other females at the box before the lady from the last 2 years finally took over. In 2015 our current female had the same mate (we called him Coal) that Sioux-Zee, the previous female, had. In 2016 Coal was replaced by another male. As hard as all of this mate replacing is to take by some of us humans, it is the way nature makes sure the best, most healthy peregrine adults are producing the best, most healthy peregrine chicks.
As always, I can’t thank enough the other Peregrine Cam partners. They are Ameren Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation. I look forward to answering your questions in the ASK JEFF section of the Peregrine Cam web site, which can be viewed through all Peregrine Cam partner’s web sites. I’ll be talking with you soon!