Date: 3/19/17 1:15 pm From: Craig Gibson <cbgibson...> Subject: [MASSBIRD] Peregrine Falcon article with Tom French!
For those with an interest, a very informative article below on Peregrine Falcons from WICKED LOCAL WALTHAM posted March 17, 2017
Enjoy, Craig Gibson Winchester cbgibson AT comcast.net
By Elsa Lichman
I had the pleasure of talking with Tom French, assistant director of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in Westborough. Two Waltham birders had spotted and captured a photo of a falcon banded by both Tom and Norm Smith of Massachusetts Audubon. The bird was seen near the Waltham Watch Factory on Feb. 25, and was subsequently identified as a male banded on May 25, 2016, at the age of three weeks, on Huntington Avenue in Boston. He had not traveled far.
Curiously, Tom had responded to the report of a fatality of a male peregrine in 1985, which had struck a window at the same factory! This bird had been banded at Logan Airport by Norm Smith. Oddly, it was almost certainly a hybrid peregrine/prairie falcon. A hybrid has never been seen before or since. It could have been a natural hybrid or an escaped falconer's bird. But all captives had bands, and this one did not, so they are not 100 percent sure. Of course, today a DNA sample would solve the mystery.
Meanwhile, returning to the present. Tom says our falcon is too young to breed at one year, but may be scouting out nesting sites, in 'wandering mode'. The factory is a perfect location for a future nest. Usually, these falcons breed at 2 to 3 years, but sometimes a younger bird may nest with an older bird, a May-December sort of thing, in the avian world.
Mass. Wildlife began 151 years ago. In 1955 every peregrine in Massachusetts was gone, due to DDT. By 1967, there were none in all of the Eastern U.S. Tom's program started in 1983. Prior to this, there was an independent peregrine fund, but their 1970s program of breeding and releasing the birds was not successful. In Massachusetts, captive bred birds were released in 1984 and 1985. In 1987 a male bird they released paired with a female bred in Toronto. Somehow, she traveled 600 miles on her own to pair up with him! There are programs in many other U.S. states as well.
At first, there were many mortalities. Recovery is strong now, with 37 to 40 nesting pairs in Massachusetts. As of 2016, 500 chicks have been born in the state. Every single bird in the Eastern United States has its ancestry going back to captive bred birds. They nest well on natural cliffs and quarries, but when they lay eggs on bare concrete ledges on buildings, or on steel bridges, they fail.
The clutch usually has 4 eggs, but not all survive. Tom installs new nest boxes with gravel on ledges and under bridges. Fully 20 of our 37 pairs have chosen these boxes. The falcons never create a nest or bring material to the site, but utilize whatever is there.
He bands all chicks when they are 3 months of age. Females are larger, with bigger feet and legs. Both males and females have adult size feet at that age. Mostly, the program never hears from these birds again, unless a photo is captured by a birder and sent in. We were lucky to have experienced birders in Waltham!
One bird was photographed in Connecticut: after 16 years, a picture was finally sent in. The oldest known bird is over 30 years old. Tom is now checking on nest sites, as courtship and nesting are occurring. By April 1, the first eggs should be in the nests.
According to Cornell University, peregrines can dive at over 200 mph, with their wings tucked in. They knock flying birds to the ground, or circle around and retrieve them mid-air. They strike the prey with a balled up foot, hitting the wing, to avoid injuring themselves. The third eyelid clears the eye for vision, and a structure in the cere, or nares, protects the lungs from being damaged by air pressure. This behavior is called a stoop. The falcon is a beautiful bird, with blue-gray coloration, a dark hood and barred underparts.
Amazingly, these birds have been used in falconry for over 3000 years, beginning with nomads in Central Asia. The recent documentary, The Eagle Huntress, depicts a family of golden eagle hunters, whose tradition goes back thousands of years in Mongolia. In the film, we witness the first child, a girl, to ever participate in an annual competition, and to hunt in the dead of winter in waist-high snow, on horseback.