Nesting Season Again Underway

In Eyrie Visits on March 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm

IMG_0780Falcons in the Santa Cruz Mountains nest a little later than the urban birds. We already have full clutches of eggs under incubation at San Jose City Hall (first egg March 7th) and San Francisco PG&E (First egg March 14th) where nest camera viewers (SCPBRG.ORG) are counting down to hatching. Other urban birds around the Bay are incubating as well.
It is probably safe to assume that the urban peregrines with a year around supply of rock doves or common pigeons are not constrained by the seasonal production of birdlife in the way that their “wilder” cousins must be. Certainly, urban peregrines are just as “wild” as those that nest in a remote mountain canyon, it is just that they live on artificial cliff faces and eat non-native birds.
When I traveled to one of the remote canyon sites this weekend the quiet of the place was almost complete. The waterfall at the head of the canyon has been silenced by the drought, and likewise the tree frogs that would multiply in vernal pools in any other year. It was silent except for the mournful wail of a female peregrine.
We looked for her by scanning all of the favored cliff face perches until our arms gave out from supporting binoculars. After about an hour, the male appeared in flight before the vertical face and settled on his mate’s back to copulate, revealing her position. After the brief act with wings fluttering, the male settled back into easy flight wheeling in a column of rising air. Soon enough, the female came to join him and both soared up, over a ridge, and out of our view.
Another occupied site to put on a lengthening watch list for the spring of 2014. Happily, sufficient food appears to exist to send one pair after another into their reproductive cycle. At banding time, we will learn whether the 2013 rate of success (avg. 3.5 young at 8 nests where banding occurred) is equaled in 2014.
Observing peregrines, whether in the city or mountains, is such a treat compared to the slog of negotiations with our state and federal permitting agencies. News on the outcome of a year of deliberations over the bridge birds when I know it. Stay tuned.

Sign of the Season

In Banding Research on December 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm

New San Jose City Hall nest box.

Pre-fabricated new San Jose City Hall nest box getting paint job.

A new peregrine falcon nest box is being readied for the nineteenth floor ledge of San Jose City Hall is a sign of the season. Solstice is just around the corner. With it, comes new interest in courtship to begin another breeding cycle.
This nest box will be a slightly new design. As always, it will fill the space between the building and the shortwall, but just one side of the five-foot long box will be filled with sand. The birds always lay in the left side of the box so that is where the sand will be. The other side will be a flat wooden surface.
Researchers in Wisconsin where all peregrine nests are on man-made ledges (there are not cliffs in Wisconsin) discovered that hatchibility of peregrine eggs was improved when the nest substrate was changed each year. We are reducing the area of nest gravel in San Jose to make this job a little more reasonable. For those who think we might be doing them a dis-service, please consider that most nest scrapes that I visit are less than one square foot in area on an otherwise rocky or uneven surface. Our “ledge” will be five feet wide and two feet deep with a twenty four by thirty inch box of course sand (aquarium gravel) that is five and one half inches deep. The new depth of the sand is thanks to 2 X 6 construction vs. 2 X 4 construction. The other improvement is an overhanging roof to increase shade for the incubating female on a sometimes very warm, south-facing ledge.
I expect to install the box in the next week or so after several more coats of paint. No date has been set as this operation is somewhat weather dependent.

Helping Bridge Falcons Get a Start in life

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm!

This story ran yesterday in papers across the country and Canada. After a couple of years of trying to get good cooperation from state and federal wildlife authorities in Sacramento I was left with the one recourse of going to the press. 

The feds were a little demeaning in their characterization of fuzzy chicks that are cute but that nest failure is a natural part of life. We know for a fact that some structures we put up are particularly bad for fledging falcons. They don’t slip and fall–they fly well and land poorly EVERY time they fledge. The problem on the underside of a bridge is that they do not get a second chance. We know that to be the case. I am willing to spend precious program money on the capture, rearing, and release, post-release monitoring (for eight weeks with help from volunteers and collaborators) to give these young a chance at a successful start in life. 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has said no to a permit for that humanitarian act. The interesting thing is that the peregrine falcon is a state of California fully protected bird–only 13 birds are listed. Why is the federal government dictating management strategy to the State? If the State agrees with this management strategy why are developers and construction workers made to accommodate this fully protected species and climbers made to avoid routes with nesting peregrines while bridge fledglings are squandered?

The State and Feds can’t have it both ways. They have an inconsistent management strategy that at times favors peregrines to the great inconvenience of many, and at times completely ignores the well-being of peregrines causing their death. 

Our elected officials are very good at asking pointed questions of agency officials. I suggest you ask yours to inquire about the topsy turvy management approach to peregrine falcons–a fully protected species just taken off the California list of endangered species in 2009. Why, we should ask, do they prefer to see them fledge into the sea when I would happily move them to a safe release site.



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