Saturday, September 6, 2014

From The North She's Come...

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) fanatic. 
An unhappy parent watching as we band Peregrine Falcon babies (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)

How these amazing birds survive at the top of the food chain is nothing but spectacular, preying on other birds which they almost always catch in mid flight.  Super maneuverable, the fastest creature in the world and long toes all help to catch slippery and evading birds.  During the months of May and June you will find me banding the Peregrine babies from the 7 or so nests in the greater St. Louis area.   When not in the field you can often find me answering questions from the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, which is honed in on the pair at Ameren Missouri’s Sioux Energy Center from mid March through mid June (be sure to watch on our web site next year).
Banding Peregrine Falcon babies at the AT&T building (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)

On a weekly basis during the nesting season I answer questions in the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, with all the questions coming directly to my computer.  I still had a few questions trickling in even well after the nesting season ended.  The other day I saw I had 6 inquiries, so I took a look through.  The last inquiry, dated 12 August, grabbed my attention as if someone dumped a bucket of icy water on my head (that happens a lot on all the social media sites these days). 

A person working at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in downtown St. Louis sent me a picture of an adult Peregrine Falcon.  When I first looked at the picture, I wasn’t too impressed because the picture preview was small, with the bird seemingly not well focused.  Upon clicking on the picture, my heart started to race.
Photo taken by Karen Schroeder on 12 August 2014 at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis

 Even through all the spots on the windowpane the Peregrine’s colored band was quite visible.  Colored bands have been being placed on Peregrine Falcon legs for about 25 years, with the advantage being observers can see the letters and numbers from further away, which gives us biologists the potential to gather information from alive and well wild Peregrines.  On this particular bird the colored band had a black field above a red field, with a 95 and S respectively, as you can see in the picture.  
 I jumped from my office chair, coming close to pulling a leg muscle in the process (hours of physical inactivity then a super rush of adrenalin can do that), and bounded to my Peregrine banding records book, on a shelf a few feet away.

 I have records dating back to 2009 in this little notebook, with dates, numbers of babies per nest and locations, and nope, the band was not in it.  I then contacted Linda Tossing, WBS volunteer extraordinaire and band record keeper from the start of the World Bird Sanctuary banding activities in the early 80’s.  She didn’t have the band record either.  Not being able to find the band in our records only made me more excited, for it meant someone from afar placed the band on this bird.  Peregrine means “wanderer” in Latin, and the falcon is aptly named because babies hatched within the Arctic circle can wind up at the southern tip of South America.  They can migrate further than any other raptor in the world.

My next inquiry was to Amber Burnette, the record keeper for the Midwest Peregrine Society.  The Society hands out all the colored bands to all the licensed Peregrine banders in the Midwest.  The Society also receives all the records of bands placed on Peregrines through reports given to them by the same banders.  Amber was quick to respond.

This lovely female Peregrine was banded as a baby in Lake City, Minnesota on 31 May in 2011, in a Peregrine nest box atop the Horizon Milling building.  She had 3 siblings (2 sisters and a brother), and the bander, Amy Ries from the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah, IA, named this Peregrine Cyclone.

 Since Cyclone is a 3 year old adult now, and her picture was taken during the non migration season, it’s relatively safe to assume she had a family somewhere in the downtown St. Louis area.  The closest known Peregrine nest to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse is on the 45th floor of the AT&T building, a few blocks to the north of Eagleton.  A Peregrine’s nesting territory can be quite large, but even if the AT&T birds had a smaller territory, it would certainly encompass the courthouse.  Last I knew both AT&T adults were unbanded, as you can see in this picture taken in late March 2013, as the male on the left gave the female a blackbird he caught.
Photo by Mary Burns, AT&T employee, 2013

Was the AT&T female replaced by Cyclone?  This phenomenon happens a lot in the Peregrine world.  Is there a new nesting pair in downtown St. Louis?  Hard for me to believe with what I know about Peregrine territories, but not out of the question.  These questions and Cyclone intrigue me, and if I get news relating to Cyclone in the future, you can bet you will read a blog from me soon afterward!

Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Director 

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