Friday, November 16, 2007

Taking to the skies


As reported last year, one of our Richmond juvenile peregrine falcons (03-Black / W-Green) was found grounded with an injury to its left wing in late July of 2006, less than two miles from the downtown Richmond high-rise nest from which it had fledged in June. The young male bird was transported to The Wildlife Center of Virginia, where it was subsequently operated upon, receiving four tiny pins in its wing to stabilize the fracture. Although the wing healed nicely within the course of two months, the falcon suffered a setback when several of its primary feathers were broken during recovery activities. These feathers are essential to the speedy flight and successful hunting of the bird. The bird continued to be cared for at The Wildlife Center, and in October 2007 it was determined that its feathers had re-grown and recovered to the point that it would be able to fly well.

We are pleased to report that the immature male was successfully released on November 8th, 2007 at Maymont Park in Richmond, just 3 miles from its natal site. The bird put on quite a show for the gathered crowd, at first disappearing at break-neck speed behind some trees across a meadow, then circling back over the crowd before catching a thermal and spiraling up until it disappeared from sight. We expect that the bird will not spend the winter in Richmond, but rather will disperse along the coast as many young Virginia falcons are known to do.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Update on Injured Falcon

The young Richmond falcon found injured in September has been undergoing flight rehabilitation at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center since October 12th. The bird is kept in a long, L-shaped flight cage where she can practice turning in flight. Although she is able to fly well horizontally, at this time she is still having trouble gaining altitude, and she will soon be re-evaluated by a veterinarian. The bird is otherwise healthy and eating very well.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Road to Recovery

The young Richmond falcon being treated at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center is recovering quite nicely. The bird has been described as ‘bright, alert and responsive’, and as starting to behave aggressively in true peregrine falcon fashion. The bird will continue to rest to allow its broken ribs heal prior to undergoing flight rehabilitation.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Richmond Fledgling Found in MD

The hazards of urban environments to Peregrine Falcons became apparent again on September 6th when DGIF received a report that one of the young falcons hatched in Richmond this year was found on a roof top near the New Carrolton Metro Station in Lanham, MD, outside of Washington D.C. The injured bird is believed to have collided with a large window. The bird was transported to the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, Delaware, where it was diagnosed as having suffered a couple of broken ribs and some possible neurological damage. The falcon’s condition did improve overnight, and it is currently self-feeding. We will post updates on its status as they become available.

The falcon was a young female that was transported to Breaks Interstate Park on July 24th for hacking and released there on August 7th. The Park, which is in southwest Virginia, is over 400 miles from where the falcon was found in Maryland. Post-fledging movement of this magnitude is not atypical, with many fledging birds wandering over large areas.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

2007 Nesting Season Wrap-up

It certainly has been an eventful nesting season for our Richmond peregrine falcons! To wrap up our journal for this season (pending updates if warranted), each of the four Richmond 2007 fledglings is banded on both legs, with a green anodized U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum band on the right leg, and a black-over-green aluminum color band on the left leg, which bears a combination of a single letter and two-digit number.

Two of the Richmond eyases, a male and female, were taken to Breaks Interstate Park near Haysi on the Virginia-Kentucky border, where they were hacked with 2 other chicks from the Eastern Shore and successfully released on Tuesday, August 7th.

The other two eyases, both female and numbered 60/Z and 61/Z respectively (see photo below), were released Wednesday morning, August 8th from their pen on the rooftop ledge on Riverfront Plaza West Tower. The remote trigger operated as planned, and the cage opened just before noon. Both birds flew within an hour: "61" flew well, and was observed gaining altitude, soaring, and landing safely on several downtown buildings; “60” however, did not learn about urban hazards as quickly as her sister, and spent much of the day on the ground or bouncing off of skyscraper windows in her attempts to fly through them or land on ledges. She ended up on the ground about 4:30 in the afternoon, so we captured her for physical examination by our Department wildlife veterinarian, injected her with fluid to prevent dehydration, and kept her safely overnight at our office. She was re-released on the rooftop ledge of Riverfront Plaza Thursday morning. Though her next flight was not detected, she was spotted again on a 9th floor balcony about 5:00 pm that evening, where she spent the night and most of the next day. On Friday, she finally flew about 4:30 pm to a 13th floor window ledge on a nearby building. On Monday afternoon the 13th, she was confirmed on a 12th floor window ledge of yet another building. Thus, she appears to be learning from her trials: her parents are feeding her, and she is gradually adjusting to her urban environment.

"61" meanwhile, flew well all day Wednesday, but then was grounded during a sudden storm late Thursday afternoon. She was recovered, uninjured, from a parking deck Friday morning and re-released on the rooftop ledge at Riverfront Plaza. She was seen Friday flying with her parents well above the tallest Richmond skyscrapers.

We likely will see all four falcons occasionally throughout the summer and into early fall, at which time the two juveniles will depart the Richmond area. The adults are occasionally seen during the winter, through they too may head south for the winter.

Our thanks are extended to staff at Hines Riverfront Plaza for their continuing support of this project, and to the many downtown "falcon spotters" who help us track the adults and fledglings in the Richmond area. Though too numerous to mention you all by name, we couldn't possibly keep track of Richmond's falcons without your assistance. We can't always respond directly to your web notes or telephone calls to report a bird’s location, but we do appreciate the reports.

If you want to report a falcon sighting, please send it via internet to DGIFweb@dgif.virginia.gov, with a subject heading of "Falcon Sighting."

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cameras offline

The cameras have been taken offline, because the two remaining juvenile birds were released from the flight cage today. One bird did extremely well and is still being fed by the adults birds downtown. The other juvenile flew fairly well, but kept running into windows. This juvenile bird is not hurt, but because it finally landed on the ground and wouldn't fly off to the top of a building, the decision was made to bring the bird in to be looked at by our Agency veterinarian. The examination shows no physical injuries. This bird will be released downtown in the next day or so. Both juveniles will be monitored by Agency biologists for the next few days to make sure they continue to fly well.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Friday, July 27, 2007

Where is the Nest

Many have asked where exactly the falcon nest is located. The map shows the relative location of the nest box.

The young are rapidly growing in their juvenile plumage and very little down remains. The parents continue to feed the young who are gaining strength every day.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Two in the Pen, and two to the Mountains

The banding of our Richmond falcon eyases went according to plan this morning: the two larger chicks, both 35-day-old females, were banded and placed in the Falcon Pen fitted to the front of their nest box. The other two chicks, a male and female, 33- and 31-days-old, are now enroute to their new home in Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky/Virginia border in Dickenson County, where they will be hacked along with two chicks from a late Eastern Shore nest. We tentatively will release the Richmond chicks from their pen on August 8th.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Update

Today's journal entry is intended to give you a glimpse into the issues faced by our Richmond falcons and the biologists from VDGIF and the Center for Conservation Biology at The College of William and Mary as we attempt to maximize the chicks' chances of survival.

Many years of observing chicks fledging from nests on bridges and tall buildings in Richmond and other cites have revealed that the eyases are prone to jumping off the ledge or bridge before they can fly well. To make matters worse, these young birds tend to "follow the leader;" if one jumps, the others are likely to soon follow. In the wild, on a cliff perhaps thousands of feet above the ground, the fledglings have a good chance of catching a natural thermal; but, even if they fail on the first attempt, they usually can land on a cliff perch or tree, still far above the ground, and try again when fully rested. In contrast, a young bird taking its first flight off of a bridge or ledge only 100-300 feet above the ground must successfully fly and catch a "thermal" to soar back to a suitable perch: if it fails, it will end up on the ground or in the water and probably perish.

Following 3 years of our releasing young falcons in downtown Richmond from 2000 through 2002, a pair of falcons nested in Richmond for the first time in 2003. The pair established a nest on the 17th floor ledge of the First National Bank "BB&T" building. Although all seemed to be going well, the eyases jumped off the ledge a day or two before they were flight-ready, and we spent several frantic days trying to rescue grounded fledglings from the middle of downtown sidewalks and highways; a real mess that resulted in a couple of serious bird injuries from collisions with the ground or buildings.

Thus, in 2004 we decided to transfer the chicks to a pen on the roof of the building, about 30 feet directly above the nest box. This allowed us to "hold" the chicks until we were confident they were strong enough to fly. The "Falcon Pen" essentially is an extra-large dog pen, mated to a smaller pen that served as a replacement "nest box" (see photo). The smaller pen was covered with ventilated pegboard to provide shelter from sun and rain. We were counting on the adults feeding their chicks through the wires of the pen. Sure enough, though it took a few hours for the adults to figure things out, they eventually located their chicks and began feeding them. To give them the benefit of a few extra days to "pump up" in preparation for their first flight, we waited until the chicks were about 50 days old before releasing them. Though we opened the pen door and left the roof as quickly and quietly as possible, the adults became very agitated at our intrusion. This got the chicks excited as well, and both chicks bolted from the pen as soon as the door was opened, before we could get off the roof. One flew safely, but the other promptly flew into the side of a building and died.

So..., in 2005 we decided to "remotely" open the Falcon Pen door, to see if this would keep the chicks and adults calm during the release. Using some "MacGyver" ingenuity, we devised a low tech "trigger" device consisting of bungee cords, a 5-lb weight, and a plastic bottle of ice attached to the Falcon Pen door (see photo). When the ice melts it releases the weight (hung from a string frozen in the bottle of ice) that keeps the door closed, and allows the bungee cords to slowly open the pen door. This process occurs over the course of 2-4 hours, and allows us to observe the chicks from distant rooftops. We have used this trigger for 2 years now, with great success. Though the adults become aggressive when we attach the device, they quickly calm down after we leave. The releases have gone very smoothly, with all the chicks calmly leaving the Pen, surveying their surroundings for a few minutes or hours, and then taking successful first flights.

Since 2006 the falcons have nested at Riverfront Plaza. There we have adapted the Pen to fit directly onto the front of the existing nest box, as you can see on the live Web images. Today we banded the chicks and will transport two of them to Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia/Kentucky border. There they will be "hacked" with two other chicks and released in 2-3 weeks as part of our effort to restore falcons to their historic range in western Virginia. The other two Richmond eyases will remain here in the Falcon Pen to be attended by their parents. We likely will attach the trigger and release these falcons during the second week of August, depending on their development and on weather conditions. Stay tuned!

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Monday, July 23, 2007

The banding of the chicks will be performed at approximately 9:30am on Tuesday July 24th. Once the procedure is complete we'll post a thorough description of what's next for these falcons as well as all of their vital statistics. The camera will be off during the banding.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Growing Up

Our young falcons (or eyases) are growing fast. You'll notice their dark flight feathers emerging. The birds are also able to get around better as they have the coordination and strength to stand on their feet instead of waddling on their "wrists". In addition to size the degree of flight feather growth is a good indicator of age at this point. The older eyases have feather growth that is obviously more advanced than that of their younger siblings.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Now Where?



These eyases are certainly an intrepid bunch. They have moved down the ledge and have been resting in the shade about 20 feet or so from the box. The parents have been feeding them there and the young show no inclination to return.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

One More Time

While the ramp added yesterday did allow the nestlings to move in and out of the box, it created another quandary. The young falcons rapidly discovered they could hide underneath it.

Given the ingenuity of these young birds it was decided that a few more modifications were needed. The nooks and crannies were blockaded and the ramp replaced with one that provided more room for the birds to hide. An overhang was added to create more shade, helping the birds stay cooler in this hot weather.

The parents have grown bolder in protesting these incursions into the nesting area, with one of our biologists getting a talon across the back of the hand. This should be the last time (barring any further antics by our young friends). that we access the nest area prior to the young being banded.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Monday, July 9, 2007

Everybody's Home

Our falcons have all returned to the nest! Biologists added a ramp, blocked off the gap alongside the nest box and added an additional sunshade. Hopefully this will keep the wanderlust of the birds in check.




Although the excursions of the birds were worrisome, the parents continued to feed all of the young. As this is a late nesting attempt its possible that the birds are dealing with temperature issues that they normally wouldn't face. The birds may have been seeking a cooler spot. The addition of the ramp will allow the birds to re-enter the shelter of the box should they wander again, while the sunshade should help to alleviate any temperature concerns.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Friday, July 6, 2007

Update

Hot on the heels of yesterday's foray outside of the nest box, one of the chicks ventured out of the nest box today sometime after 1:30 p.m. Department biologists returned to the site and placed the chick back into the box. They also nailed a board across the nest box bottom to prevent future "escapes." Although the board will partially impede the view of the chicks at times, they will still be visible when feeding.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Update

One of the four chicks tumbled out of the nest box this afternoon. Because of impending rain and the summer heat, a Department wildlife biologist was dispatched to put the chick back into the nest box. While on-site, biologists also quickly removed the spider webs that have interfered with the camera's view of the nest.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Monday, July 2, 2007

Doing Great

All four of the falconets are growing rapidly. At this stage their weight has more then doubled. They have replaced their first plumage with a second down (or mesoptile). The young birds are developing coordination and are able to walk about the nest now. The first flight feathers are already growing with the primary feather sheaths starting to break the skin (although too short to see with the cam yet).

The parents seem to be doing a great job hunting, and all four of the nestlings seem to be getting a fair share at feeding time. These young birds quickly gulp down the food that their parents provide. Rather then swallowing it they store it in their crop. This is a muscular pouch which acts as a storage area, allowing birds to rapidly consume large quantities of food, which can be released into the stomach for later digestion. Following feeding time you can clearly see the bulging crops of our little falcons

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Monday, June 25, 2007

Our falcons' brood is now complete, as the fourth egg hatched Saturday morning. Remnants of the fourth eggshell are sometimes visible in the background. As you can see in this picture, Mom and Dad are busy feeding their four chicks several times each day.

The male will do the bulk of the hunting at this stage, preying on a variety of birds that may be found in an urban setting. These young birds will begin to fledge when they are about 40 days old so we should expect to see them trying out their wings in late July/early August.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Three Hatchlings

This morning the remnants of a third eggshell were seen. By late this afternoon we had seen all three of the new chicks. While the parents are busy feeding and caring for these three we'll wait for #4 to hatch.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Feeding Time

Standing Guard

The male is already providing for his brood. He returned with prey which the female flew off to pluck while he stood watch. The female returned to feed the hatchlings, tearing the prey into bite sized morsels.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Second Hatchling

The second of four eggs have hatched. At around 2:45 pm on June 19th the second chick began to break free of its shell. Now we'll wait to see when # 3 & 4 will emerge.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hatched!

The first egg has hatched! Biologists noted pipping from at least one egg yesterday. Pipping is the process by which the hatchling uses a specialized hardened knob on its bill the egg tooth, to break through the shell. The first hatchling was noted this morning at around 9:40am. Keep watching as the rest of the eggs will hatch over the next few days. Falcon eggs hatch asynchronously, meaning that the eggs hatch in the order in which they were laid, as opposed to all at once.

The maintenance to remove the spider web will be performed once all the eggs have hatched. Until then - please note that camera views are best in the afternoon when the glare from the webs is minimized.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Friday, June 8, 2007

Eight-legged Issues

Now that our webcam is online you can enjoy real-time refreshed images of the Peregrine Falcons!

The fuzziness and glare you may notice in the image are the result of an industrious spider who spun a web over the camera dome!

We plan to conduct some brief camera maintenance next week, and will clean the dome at that time, causing minimal disturbance to the nesting falcons.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Four!

Our female peregrine falcon has rounded out her clutch with a fourth egg, probably laid Monday afternoon. This probably will be the last egg, but larger clutches are not unheard of. Keep checking this Web site for further updates!

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Three Eggs

And then there were 3 eggs!

As you can see in this picture, the Richmond female peregrine falcon laid her third egg of this clutch early Saturday afternoon. She began incubating late Thursday and we estimate that, if all goes well, the eggs should begin to hatch on June 19th or 20th. Keep checking this website and we'll post further updates as the pair progresses through this nesting cycle.

posted by VDGIF Wildlife Biologist at