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PEREGRINE FALCONS (Falco peregrinus) AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY

2009 Observations        by Elli Jilek


April 13, 2009: First confirmed sighting of peregrines (2) was today - however, I have also received reports of possible sightings by some of the construction crew who believe the falcons have actually been around for about a week. So let's say that between April 6 and the 13th, we may have had our avian squatters take up their usual home on campus. It has become difficult for me to see the ledge, due to the construction work, but the support and co-operation I am receiving from the on-site workers and their supervisor, Pierre, is helping keep an eye on things.

I also have the usual extra eyes from Campus Security and their cameras, which help me to find them when necessary. The falcons have done some 'nesting' - meaning, they are fussing about the scrape and adjusting the pebbles to make it appropriate for egg-laying.

On Thursday, April 23rd, I saw some mating activity, which took place on the communication tower of the Library Tower - precarious at best, and very short-lived. However, the most interesting part of this was the fact that a 3rd falcon was flying just above, making circular fly-overs. I managed to see this because the female was making some 'begging' noises - or maybe just calling the one male. This other falcon could be a sibling of one of them, or perhaps a rival, but it did not make any gestures that indicated this. The 3 were then spotted by me on or near the Library Tower - one on the library sign, and the others on the roof ledges. Since their identities cannot be made until the leg bands are read (very difficult to do under the best circumstances), we can only guess who is here.

Sat. April 25: phone call from Kim of Campus Security who managed to see 'eggs' in the scrape via their cameras. When I came to work Monday, I tried looking with my binoculars into the nest area from the adjacent Library Tower windows, but the female was sitting tightly at the time. I tried again on Thursday, Apr. 30th by looking via the Campus Security cameras, and managed to have a quick glance while the female was off the scrape, that there were 3 eggs. I also received confirmation later that day from the construction crew that they saw 3 eggs from their bldg. site. As I was away for a mini-break, Pat from Fish & Wildlife checked on the nest ledge on Mon. May 4th and saw that 4 eggs had been laid. That should be the final count, although it is known that other sites have produced up to 5 eggs. 4 has been our 'best' so far.

33 days (approx.) for incubation from the 2nd of May should give us our first hatchling around June 4th. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, many thanks to Pierre and his construction crew, as they have become important in reporting since my visual connection with the ledge has been severely hampered by the new bldg. going up. But we shall persevere, as have the falcons.

June 4th: Early morning call from Campus Security reports that they have managed to see 'some' hatchlings. Although I try to verify the number via the security cameras, it is impossible to say how many little ones there are.

 

Friday, June 5th I go to the scrape to have a closer look, and see that 3 fluff-balls have emerged from their eggs.

Mom and dad are swooping in and trying to get rid of me, so I gather up the empty egg shells and some prey remnants for later identification.        
On Sunday, June 7th, I try again to see if the 4th egg has produced, but only 3 chicks are huddled together on the ledge, with the 4th egg in their midst.

Tuesday, June 9th: Removal of the apparently infertile egg from the scrape, and shortly after I leave, mom goes back to check on her little ones. Dad is nearby and watching from the Library Tower, an excellent vantage point.                                         

Banding will take place in the last week of June, which will also give us the gender of our 3 hatchlings.

Monday, June 29th. Chicks are wondering what is in store for them. Banding of 2 females, and one male chick takes place under ideal conditions.

 

Weighing in for gender identification - females are about 915 grams or so, the male is 680 grams. All appear healthy, are feisty, and not impressed with their new 'bracelets'. Mom was swooping by as Pat Young, Fish and Wildlife senior biologist, handed off the chicks, one by one, to John Campbell, our licensed bander, who was assisted by Elli Jilek. Campus Security staff was on hand to enable access to the scrape site.
After the banding procedures, all 3 chicks huddled together in a corner of the ledge and waited for the ordeal to be over.
Next step is gaining more flight feathers, eating on an almost constant basis, and developing flapping skills, readying themselves for their first flights.

Friday, July 10: lots of flapping about by all three, but the weather is not that conducive - with little wind, but lots of cold rain.

Monday, July 13: All three are still on the ledge. Weather conditions not the best for first flights.

Tuesday, July 14:  I check from the library tower, and only see one chick on the ledge, and after confirming with Campus Security, it seems we have two flyers. Pierre, from the construction site, kindly verifies that there are indeed two missing from the ledge. I try to find the two, but am unable to track them down. The male (I assume, since they are usually the first to go) had landed on one of the construction railings, and left from there. Am a bit concerned, as the females usually wait several days up to a week more for their first tries. Campus Security cameras are able to zero in on the male being fed on the library tower.
In the afternoon I get a call from Campus Security that a bird has been found near the Reeve Theatre. I get there within a couple of minutes, but as soon as I arrive, I can see by its prone position, and the impact it made on the window, that this is bad. I lift her (as per band) up gently and know that I cannot help, as the neck had been broken. That kind of impact, as you can see from the photo, would also give massive internal injuries. Campus Security staff and I stand there for a few minutes, along with the student who phoned, and contemplate the sad event.
 

Things like this do happen occasionally, but this is the first fatality I have had to experience in the 14 years I have been involved. It is a tragic day. Since we only have about 55 pairs of falcons in the province, every one counts.

 

Wed., July 15: I manage to find the male, who is doing very well, and chasing a parent, while constantly calling for food. The last fledgling is still on the ledge, but sitting on the edge and looking up for the others, which is an indication she is anxious to leave.

Thursday, July 16: Arrive early at work to see that the remaining female is still on the ledge, albeit looking 'ready' to go. I inform the construction guys to pls. be on the lookout, and will try and check now and then when I go out. CBC calls for an interview, so I go out around 11 am. While we are given access to the top area of the TFDL site, I see that we have an empty ledge, and am able to track the female to the roof of the Professional Faculties bldg. She appears in good shape, and is looking up at her sibling and parent/s who are flying above and making some beautiful circles in the area around the library and our vantage point.

 

Fri., July 17: I manage to find the female on the law library roof, after which I find her on the PF roof, then later she is able to fly up to the Education bldg. The male fledgling is on Social Sciences, along with a parent. So far today, all is well, and I am hoping that the female, who has given herself more time for 'practice', will be an expert soon.

 

 

Due to the interview with the CBC, we will possibly have a live web cam feed for next season, which the CBC will be arranging with me in due course. Let's hope this happens and that even more people will be able to experience the kinds of things I am privileged to be part of every year.
My last report of the season:

August saw the two surviving fledglings slowly develop their flying skills - the male more adept more quickly, with the female taking longer and remaining with a parent longer than her brother. Greater flying distances were observed by myself and various other contributors to the sightings, and no more 'accidents' were experienced. Many times the fledglings were heard or seen to be begging for food from a parent until they too were able to fend for themselves, a learning process like every hunter-gatherer society. Lots of prey carcasses and feathers were reported around their usual hang-outs - the Social Sciences bldgs. and the Library tower.

Sept. 24th - one of the falcons is still on campus, which is a bit later than usual, but due to our good weather conditions, this is no surprise. Why go on a long journey south when you can enjoy warm, sunny weather here, and access a ready supply of food?

Despite the very traumatic experience of losing a fledgling this season, and the on-going construction stress for both the birds and myself, we did manage to get 2 new additions out there, and wish them the very best for their future.

Thanks again to all supporters, helpers (especially Campus Security), and our friends at the construction site. Additional media coverage by the CBC has increased the awareness and interest of people about the peregrines, which helps us, and them, in the long run. Let's hope the new year brings 'our' falcons back and that the new bldg. in front of Craigie Hall will not deter them from their nesting site.

Please report any problems or interesting sightings to me via e-mail: jilek@ucalgary.ca.

 
     

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