Richmond Falcon Cam

Thursday, August 20, 2009

After a morning in which it appeared that all three chicks were beginning to master basic flight skills, Female AD/03 continued to have some challenges yesterday. She again made multiple attempts to alight on banks of glass windows on the building surrounding the nesting area. Predictably, she was unable to find purchase and would lose altitude - eventually finding a perch within about 4 stories of the ground. This process was repeated twice during the course of the afternoon. In each case DGIF staff and volunteers were able to locate and monitor the female until she flew off to a higher perch. The fact that she was able to recover in each case and eventually regain altitude gave us increased confidence in her abilities.

We were able to observe the adults utilizing food to help teach their young birds. The female adult would use a food tidbit to tease the young into the air - where she would lead them on an extensive flying lesson before dropping the food on a ledge. As we closed the day yesterday evening all five of the falcons were accounted for. This marks the end of our official "Falcon Fledge Watch". DGIF staff will continue to periodically check on the area and we continue to receive reports from observers with "high-rise" vantage points in the area. In fact an observer reported that as of 8:30am this morning all five falcons were in view.

Our thanks to the many building managers for allowing us access and of course to our volunteers for dedicating many hours in the Richmond heat.

Updates will be posted to the blog as we receive any reports of significant events.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grounded Female Up and Flying

One of the juvenile females spent the evening perched on a lamppost on the Federal Reserve property after attempting (and failing) to perch on windows at the reserve. She was uninjured and in a secure location. This morning, shortly before sunrise, this female finally took flight. She looked good and was able to gain altitude, perching on a 10 story building adjacent to the Reserve. From there she continued flying and gaining altitude, eventually joining her siblings and parents atop the Riverfront Plaza where they shared in a morning meal.

All three of the chicks continue to fly well and are being attended to by the parents.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All three have flown

Following the first successful flight of the young male, the two juvenile females were somewhat more cautious. One of the females slowly scaled the roof line using a strand of holiday lights (the lights are unplugged) and finally reached the apex of the roof. The other perched on the box that houses the camera equipment. Both females practiced getting the wind under their wings for some time before finally taking flight. Both of the two females flew strongly and were able to gain altitude.

One of the females did quite a bit of flying - eventually attempting to "land" on a window at the Federal Reserve building. She was unable to gain any purchase and was able to fly back to the Riverfront Plaza West Tower. A short time later she attempted the same maneuver again. This time she was unable to regain lift and fluttered to the ground. DGIF personnel were able to enter the Federal Reserve property with an escort from Federal Reserve Police. The female was located - unhurt- perched on a small single story structure on the grounds. Although she was able to move to a slightly higher perch she made no concerted effort to regain the air. She was monitored at this location for some hours. As the site is extremely secure it was determined that the best course of action was to let her rest and try again tomorrow. Our past experience has shown that birds which have similar experiences often do well after an evening of rest. We will closely monitor the bird on Wednesday.

The other two fledglings were not seen for some time during the afternoon - although the adults made regular flights to favorite perches. Not until late in the afternoon was the juvenile male seen again - chasing the adult male and begging loudly. The adult male soon flew off to hunt. During his absence the second juvenile female was resighted and she joined her brother atop the Federal Reserve.

When the adult male returned the mother and juvenile male met him in the air - where he dropped his prey to them. It was caught (we're unsure by who) and the three flew to the roof of the Riverfront Plaza West Tower (nest building). They were joined by the juvenile female who had been on top of the Federal Reserve. In all, the day was largely successful. The difficulty encountered by the juvenile female demonstrates the potential hazards encountered by these birds fledging in highly urbanized areas. We are hopeful that she will be able to take flight on her own tomorrow morning. Should intervention be warranted DGIF staff will be on hand.

Fledged!

The male has fledged! He took strong flight gaining altitude before landing atop the Riverfront Plaza west tower to rest and enjoy a new perspective. Both of the females have left the pen. 02/AD is perched on the ledge and 03/AD is perched atop the camera housing. We will post more updates later today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fledging

Our three young falcons have grown quickly. Only a few scattered tufts of down remain and their juvenile plumage is almost fully grown in. Peregrine falcons typically fledge between 40-45 days after hatching.

The door-opener apparatus will be installed on the pen door on Tuesday morning, August 18th. This will mark 47 to 48 days since hatching for these falcons. The extra time ensures full feather development, and allows these birds to strengthen their flight muscles before attempting their first flights.

The “apparatus” is comprised of a weight, bungee cords, and a plastic bottle of ice attached to the pen door. As the ice melts it releases the weight and the door is slowly pulled open by the bungee cords. Depending on the temperature on the release date, the door should open about 2-4 hours after the trigger is attached. We have used this method successfully for three years. Though the adults become aggressive when we attach the device, they quickly calm down after we leave. Past releases have gone very smoothly, with the chicks typically walking from the pen or flying to the ledge, surveying their surroundings for a few minutes or hours, and then taking successful first flights.

DGIF personnel and skilled volunteers will be stationed in the area surrounding the nest building. This will allow us to track the young birds’ first efforts and ensure that they are capable of sustained, controlled flight. This monitoring effort will continue until we are confident in the flight abilities of the fledglings. Should one of the fledglings encounter difficulty and end up on the ground, DGIF staff will recover the fledgling and either return it to the ledge or ensure prompt treatment and transportation to a licensed rehabilitation facility if necessary.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

4th egg was Found

When DGIF biologists were on the ledge installing the pen for the falcon chicks, they discovered the remains of the fourth egg from this clutch wedged under the ramp. The eggshell was cracked and its contents dried out. The remnants of this egg were sent for toxicology testing along with the blood samples from the chicks collected during the banding.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Camera Positions

With the installation of the pen camera operators have a bit of a quandary. It is not possible to simultaneously provide a view of both the nest box where the chicks spend much of their time or the feeding area where the adults bring food and pass it through to the chicks. Providing a good view of one area means a poor (or non-existent) view of the other.

Unfortunately camera operators are simply not able to monitor the cam continually (as much as we like watching falcons). In an attempt to provide the best possible coverage of activity at the nest we are utilizing some of the camera's built-in features. The camera had been programmed so that when motion in detected in a section of the camera view ("a trigger" area) the camera can be instructed to move to a preset position. As these cameras were not designed with the flapping of wings in mind - calibrating the detection can be somewhat tricky. A number of things (including rapidly changing light levels) can "fool" the camera temporarily. There are a limited number of triggers and positions that can be programmed. We have selected those that provide the best overall chance of seeing what's happening. When a camera operator is logged in the view can be set manually.

While this solution does not work perfectly, it does allow for our viewers to see more of the action at the nest then otherwise possible.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Close Call

On the afternoon of Fri, July 31st, a DGIF biologist responded to a call of a grounded osprey chick in downtown Richmond. The caller reported having shooed the bird from the Manchester Bridge, where cars were swerving to avoid hitting it, onto the adjacent grassy lawn of the Federal Reserve Building. The Manchester Bridge sits between the Riverfront Plaza, where Richmond's peregrine falcon pair have nested this year, and the Federal Reserve Building. Upon arrival at the scene, the biologist was surprised to see that the ‘osprey’ chick was none other than the banded male peregrine falcon chick. This chick was known to have been spending time on the parapet of the ledge of the Riverfront Plaza and had evidently fallen or been swept off the ledge by a gust of wind. Luckily, the bird was unharmed and was returned to the Riverfront Plaza ledge shortly thereafter.

Although DGIF biologists had decided to leave these three falcons to fledge naturally this year – the recent mishap has caused us to reevaluate our approach. In the past we have utilized a pen to prevent premature fledging. Young falcons leaving the nest before they are fully ready to fly is a serious hazard – one that was experienced before by this pair (see http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/falconcam2008/2007-archive.asp). To ensure that these three chicks are well developed and capable of full flight when they fledge, we have decided to use the pen.

On the morning of August 1st, two DGIF biologists accessed the ledge and found the male chick again perched on the parapet. All three chicks were removed from the ledge while the pen was installed; the chicks were then placed in the pen under the watchful eyes of the adults. The entire process took less than two hours.

The pen allows ample room for the young to exercise their wings (indeed the pen is larger then many peregrine falcon scrapes). The adults are able to feed the young through the pen wires. At this stage the chicks do not need brooding, and are able to feed themselves from prey brought by the adults. A sunshade has been added to the roof of the pen to provide shelter from the sun. When the chicks have fully developed and are capable of flight, a remote door-opening mechanism will be installed on the pen. The door will then slowly open, allowing the chicks to fledge without human intrusion.