I do not agree with the Darwinian view that when Peregrine Falcons fledge badly, that they are deficient. Or that those originating at poorly located eyries (bridges, cranes, etc.) are the progeny of genetically deficient parents who are unable to choose a safe nest site. This fatalistic viewpoint holds that these falcons are better left for nature to take its course. My view is that the Peregrine Falcon is a precious resource that should not be squandered by narrow thinking and that if we can pick them up and give them a second chance, we should.
We band birds with the glimmer of hope that someone, somewhere might see them again. But most banded birds never are. The many Peregrine Falcon observers in the San Francisco Bay Area increase my chances. Bands give me an opportunity to learn more about dispersal distance and direction, nest site tenacity, and, the longevity of Bay Area Peregrines.
Today, I have information on one banded female falcon that is worth sharing. She fledged poorly and probably would have expired had a Good Samaritan not picked her up and given her a second chance. Her story is a good example of a falcon that is clearly not genetically deficient–just unlucky on her first attempt at flying.
It is important to note that fledging falcons are inherently clumsy. Having never stuck a landing in their short lives they are uncoordinated at braking before a landing and then grasping and balancing upon a perch. The bird in our example fledged from a nest box situated on a 250-foot high catwalk encircling one of two smokestacks at the Moss Landing Power Plant. Peregrines had attempted to nest at the power plant for years, probably because it overlooked abundant foraging habitat at Elkhorn Slough. But this attractive site near the midpoint of the Monterey Bay shoreline offered no nesting substrate on the one structure near the slough. Plant workers added a tray of gravel and the grateful Peregrines moved right in.
When our falcon tested her wings for the first time she missed attempts at perching and fluttered to the ground where she was immediately set upon by gulls. It was July 2nd, 2012.
A power plant worker saw the melee and scooped the young Peregrine into a cardboard box. A young woman living nearby heard about the capture through the wildlife network and drove immediately to the power plant and offered to take the bird to her veterinarian father for evaluation. The young woman is Sierra Roush and her father is Jim Roush, founder of the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group. (Jim thinks the bird should be now be known as “Sierra!”)
Dr. Roush declared the bird fit for release and I banded her with the VID band, 23/R. I released her the next day on a large flat roof near the power plant smokestack where the resident pair could resume their parental duties. That would be the end of the story except for a photograph taken yesterday by an exceptional peregrine watcher–Cleve Nash.
People like me who band Peregrines, are so grateful for people like Cleve who search for Peregrines and then report their whereabouts. These patient observers wait hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months, for a falcon to stretch a wing and a leg at a time and place where they can see–and perhaps photograph–its banded leg.
Three years and two days after she was banded and released at Moss Landing, Cleve verified that 23/R was the nesting female at one of the world’s most famous Peregrine Falcon eyries–the north side of Morro Rock at Morro Bay, California. She produced 3 young in 2015. When I relayed her story to Cleve he said, “maybe the stacks at the Morro Bay Power Plant looked like home to her.”
23/R had some bad luck on her first flight but has proven that she is in no way deficient by taking over the iconic nesting territory at Morro Rock as a three year old.
Here is Cleve’s photograph: