Archive for May, 2007

Banding Day 2007 Wrap-up

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Banding Table

Many thanks to everyone who entered the Rochester Falconcam’s Eyas naming contest. We received over 300 entries from as far away as Australia! There were so many great names it was difficult even to whittle down the list, to say nothing of actually choosing the final names. This year with four female eyases, our male name finalists were unfortunately out of the running by default, but it’s just another of life’s little surprises.

Banding began around 10:00 AM, a little later than the team had planned. We were just getting ready to get the eyases from the nest box when Mariah arrived with food. Anyway, we had to wait for her to finish feeding the eyases their third breakfast of the morning(!), and we were obliged to operate on falcon time instead of our own schedule.

Mariah buzzing the banding team

Mariah is well known as an aggressive falcon, especially in defense of her territory and her eyases. This year was no different. She launched attack after attack at the wildlife technicians from the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation as they removed the eyases. In the picture at the left you can see how we used lawn rakes to protect the backs of the workers. The rakes were held like shields. Mariah dove at them and peeled away at the last moment. In this way we kept the workers safe, and also minimized the chance that Mariah might get injured in a collision with a member of the banding team.

Eyas receiving ID bands     Banding an eyas

The best way to ensure her safety was to retrieve the eyases as quickly as possible, and that’s just what we did. Inside, Barbara Loucks and Mike Allen of the New York DEC took each eyas in turn and applied aluminum identification bands to each of the birds’ legs. These ID bands will help scientists and others to identify the falcons after they leave the area later this summer. Each eyas also received a quick health check. You’ll be happy to know that all were found to be in good condition and, not surprisingly, well fed too!

As each eyas received its band, its name was announced to a group of school children and others watching the banding through a live video feed in Kodak’s lobby. If you missed the names, you can find them at our Banding Day page. We even took a couple of the newly banded eyases down to the lobby so the children could see the young falcons up close. The Rochester Falconcam is dedicated to educating the community about the Peregrine falcon. Our outreach efforts with local schools help to involve upcoming generations in protecting our natural environment. Journalists from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle were on hand too. Read their story and watch a video of the banding.

Mariah turns to attack     Kaver flyby

After all the eyases had been banded and named it was time to return them to the nest box. Once again the team ventured out to face the wrath of Mariah and Kaver. As before, once the eyases were safely returned to the nest box, we human invaders retreated. Mariah landed in the nest box almost immediately to check on her eyases. Before long, they were being fed again.
Mariah checks on the eyases after banding

2007 marks the tenth year that the falcon chicks in Rochester have been banded. We’re grateful to everyone at Kodak and the NYS DEC for their support, and to our many fans around the world for tuning in to watch all of the excitement! The next few weeks will see the eyases continuing to grow. Their white downy feathers are already being replaced by dark brown and tan juvenile plumage. Before we know it, they’ll begin exploring the area outside of the nest box, and by the third week of June they should begin to take their first flights. I’ll talk more about fledging, and what you can do to help ensure the safety of these eyases in an upcoming article.

Banding Day Update

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

We hope you’ll join us on Thursday, 31 May, starting at about 9:45AM Eastern time (that’s TOMORROW!) for special coverage of the 2007 Banding Day event. Be sure to watch the action on the Rochester Falconcam cameras (use the Mulitview page), and go to our 2007 Banding Day page on Imprints where we’ll reveal the winners of our eyas naming contest! The Banding Day page will be active tomorrow, and we’ll include a link to it in the News Flash on our home page.

Watch Out For Those Mobile Eyases!

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

The hatchlings have hit that pesky stage of their development where they’re starting to move around the nest box. Sometimes they can be pretty lively. This one in the (upper left corner of the nest box) has decided to play Magellan, to see what’s at the edge of the world…
mobile_eyases_camera3_20070523-0938.jpg
Actually, it’s more likely the eyas just wants to sleep in the sun, but it does look like it’s exploring, doesn’t it?

You can expect the eyases to be more active now. Their downy feathers are thick enough that they don’t need Mariah or Kaver to provide warmth for them, and as long as the weather is good they won’t need to huddle together very much either. At the same time their legs are getting stronger, and even though they’re still crawling, they’ll be up and walking around before you know it.

Feeding eyases     Mobile eyas during feeding

As you can imagine, feeding time is a great motivator to get the eyases to move around. The two images at the left were taken only one minute apart, while Mariah was feeding the eyases. They’re a good illustration of the hatchlings’ mobility. The point is, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the nestlings spreading out in the nest box.

Don’t worry about them getting close to the edge of the box, either. Remember, thousands of years of evolution have prepared them for a life lived on the edges of cliffs. If one should take a tumble, there’s a catwalk just about 3 feet (1 meter) below the scrape, so any overly BASE-jumping eyases won’t get very far. We’ve never had an eyas fall out of our nest box, at least not at this early stage, so there’s likely no cause for concern with this year’s brood.

It’s getting pretty messy in the nest box. Too bad Mariah can’t get the nestlings to do a little cleaning, now that they’re getting more mobile!

Banding Day and Naming the Eyases

Friday, May 18th, 2007
Banding Eyases in 2005

Each year, wildlife technicians from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS-DEC) come to Rochester in order to place identification bands on the eyases’ legs. The bands have a unique combination of numbers and letters on colored backgrounds that can be used to identify the banded falcon at a later time. The NYS-DEC has been banding eyases at the Kodak tower since 1998.

Ripped Shirt

It takes fast, gentle hands and sharp eyes to band the falcons. First, the eyases need to be removed from the nest box. When they’re between 3 and 4 weeks old, DEC wildlife technicians accompany a small group of Kodak employees and others on the journey up to the nest box, 210 feet above the street below. There, they carefully move the eyases into plastic buckets so that they can be taken inside. All the while, Mariah harrasses the invaders, diving and screeching. She can be very aggressive, and it’s not uncommon for her to thump the banders’ hard hats as she passes close by. In fact, those who don’t duck quite fast enough have had their shirts ripped by Mariah’s sharp talons!

Banding Day has become a festival of sorts for fans of the Rochester falcons. In past years the cameras have been modified to allow pictures of the banding activity to be displayed on the website, and the action was posted as it happened on various discussion forums such as the Kodak Birdcam Discussion Board. Local media and groups of school children are often invited to witness the event. We’re in the final stages of planning for this year’s event, and we’ll be sure to let you in on all the fun as soon as we’re finished.

The highlight of each Banding Day comes when the eyases are given names. Over the years names have been chosen by a variety of means, but this year we’d like to involve the entire Rochester Falconcam community by inviting you to submit a name for one of the eyases! Everyone is welcome to participate. You can find complete rules on our Eyas Naming Contest page. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

UPDATE 22 MAY
I’ve added some of the names given to eyases in past years to the contest page, so if you don’t remember all of them (even we at the Rochester Falconcam have trouble sometimes!) you can refresh your memory.

-Jess

Feeding Those Growing Eyases

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Kaver with the eyases

The four young eyases have spent their first week in the nest box, and they all appear to be doing very well. Now that they’re a bit older, their downy coats provide them with some protection against the temperature, and you’ll see them huddling together for mutual warmth as Mariah and Kaver leave them alone for longer periods of time. They’re also developing the ability to regulate their own body temperature, and soon they’ll grow a second coat of down. They’re growing fast! They’ve doubled in size from when they hatched, and they’ll continue that rapid pace for the next several weeks.

Kaver feeding eyases

They’re being fed regularly, as often as every 90 to 120 minutes. To keep up that pace, Kaver’s doing a lot of hunting. Watchers have observed him taking prey beginning in the pre-dawn hours and throughout the day. Often when he catches a bird, he’ll bring it right into the nest box, but sometimes he takes it to a nearby perch where he’ll eat some of it himself before feeding the eyases. Sometimes, he just stores the food by stashing it on one of the ledges on the Kodak tower, or by taking it to one of the buildings downtown where he and Mariah like to stay outside of nesting season. This process, called caching, provides the falcons with a food reserve in case they’re unsuccessful at hunting.

Kaver Feeding Eyases

Speaking of hunting, we should probably review how that’s done. A Peregrine’s main food source is other birds which it catches in flight. If it can get close to a prey bird by outrunning it (they’re fast flyers, after all), the falcon will snag the bird out of the air with its talons, then snap its neck with its notched bill. However, while Peregrines are fast, they’re not always as maneuverable as their prey, so their preferred hunting method is to stoop, or dive upon the prey from a great height. A stooping Peregrine will often come out of the sun, the better to surprise its target. At the moment of impact, the falcon balls up its talons like fists and slams into its victim, stunning the prey or killing it outright. Then it catches the falling bird and dispatches it as I described above. A stooping Peregrine is the fastest animal on earth. Diving Peregrines have been measured at speeds exceeding 230MPH! Of course, a Peregrine needs to get pretty high to build up that kind of diving speed. That’s why they like to hunt from high perches. A location like the Kodak tower makes a perfect hunting perch, because it is very tall, and there are few other tall structures nearby to block their view of potential prey.

Sometimes we hear from Falconcam fans who claim to have seen Mariah or Kaver hunting in their neighborhoods or back yards. Though it would be great to think that Mariah and Kaver are making visits to backyard feeders, there are a few reasons why this is probably not the case. First, there are so many birds in the immediate area around the Kodak tower that it’s not necessary for the falcons to go very far in order to hunt. There have been reliable sightings of Mariah and Kaver hunting a few miles from downtown Rochester, but no credible evidence that they venture as far as the suburbs. Also, their typical hunting behavior isn’t the kind that’s likely to allow them to hunt successfully in people’s yards. Taking small birds at backyard feeders requires more maneuverability than Peregrines possess– they’re simply not designed for the kind of quick zig-zag tail-chasing flight needed to grab birds that are darting among trees, shrubs and houses.

Cooper’s Hawk

It is much more likely that the people making these reports are seeing either Cooper’s hawks (like the one in the picture at the right), or Sharp-shinned hawks. Both of these raptors belong to a family of hawks called Accipiters, and they are often confused with Peregrines. They have similar coloration, and the Cooper’s hawk is roughly the same size as a Peregrine. Called “Coops” and “Sharpies” by birders, these small hawks feed on birds attracted to backyard feeders, and their hunting styles are perfect for the tight turning and weaving needed to take prey in wooded lots and suburban neighborhoods.

Another possibility is that the reporter might be seeing a kind of falcon called a Merlin. Merlins look even more like Peregrines than Coopers or Sharp-shinned hawks since biologically speaking the two species are cousins. But like the hawks, Merlins are maneuverable enough to grab birds from trees, bird feeders, and even off the ground. Merlins are pretty unusual around the Rochester area though– It’s more likely that you’ve seen a Coop or Sharpie.

So if you think you’ve just seen Mariah or Kaver snatch a Mourning Dove from your bird feeder, look again– you probably just saw a hawk getting dinner.

International Migratory Bird Day

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Saturday, May 12 is International Migratory Bird Day. Here in the Rochester area, the annual IMBD festival will take place at the Braddock Bay Park in Greece, New York. Lying along one of the major bird migration routes in North America, Braddock Bay is a great place to learn about birds at any time of year, but especially during the annual migrations in fall and spring. Events for people of all ages are scheduled for May 12-13 (Mother’s Day), such as live bird demonstrations, nature hikes, arts and crafts, and presentations by local birding authorities including our very own Jim Pisello! A nature photographer and Communications Director for the Rochester Falconcam, Jim will deliver a presentation about watching our favorite falcons on Sunday afternoon. If you’re anywhere in the greater Rochester area we hope you’ll join us at Braddock Bay this weekend!

Download the festival schedule HERE (Adobe Acrobat Reader required– Get it here)

-Jess

Fourth Hatchling – First Look!

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

4th hatchling

Mariah and Kaver with 4 hatchlings

The fourth eyas appears to have hatched shortly before this picture was taken. The new chick is curled up with its just to the left of the empty egg shell. If you look closely you’ll see that its feathers are still matted and wet (they’ll dry out soon when Mariah or Kaver covers the hatchlings). Click the picture at the right for another look!

Now that all four eggs have hatched, the eyases will be getting fed several times throughout the day. As you can see in the pictures above, the nest box will get pretty messy as the remains of old meals are often left where they lay. Some of the debris gets carried out of the nest by Mariah and Kaver, and the wind will take care of the lighter stuff like feathers. It’s likely that Mariah will eat some of the egg shells. They’re a good source of calcium, which she lost when she laid the eggs. But for the most part Peregrines are pretty messy housekeepers, so don’t be surprised to see the garbage pile up!

Tips for Watching the Falconcam

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

With the hatching of the eyases we’re moving into one of the most active periods of watching the Rochester Falconcam. Each year we get a lot of questions and comments from viewers about the activity (or lack of it) in the nest box. We’d like to offer a few tips for viewing the website over the next few weeks so that you can make the most of your experience.

Scientists have a saying: “If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras”. It’s a good rule of thumb when observing these falcons. In other words, if you see something “unusual” in the nest box, think of all the possible explanations then choose the simplest one.

EXAMPLE: An eyas has been in the same spot for a long time, and doesn’t appear to be moving. Is the eyas sleeping or is it dead?

Kaver with eyases

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the eyas is just asleep. In one of my recent articles we talked about the fact that the eyases will spend a lot of their time sleeping or just laying around the nest box. It’s easy to look at the cameras, not see one of the eyases moving, and assume that something bad has happened. The good news is that it’s almost never true! Often when they’re napping they’ll flatten themselves out on the floor of the nest box, looking a bit like falcon pancakes! Other times they’ll huddle together in a big eyas blob so that it’s hard to tell where one chick ends and another begins. As they get older and more mobile, they’ll also do things like crawl on top of each other. All of these things can be mistaken for a problem with one or more of the eyases. It may look like an eyas hasn’t moved in a long time, or that one hatchling is being smothered by another, but what you aren’t seeing is all the activity that happens between the individual pictures you see on the website.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE: All the eyases get fed except for one. Is the eyas sick, starving, or is something else going on?

Mariah feeding eyases     Feeding the eyases

Most times all of the eyases will beg whenever an adult comes into the nest box, especially with food. But like everything else, there are exceptions. Sometimes an eyas will get fed quickly, or it will have received a recent feeding, and it just won’t be hungry. In that case it may not bother to beg. Eyases like to eat, but they can survive quite a long time without food, so if you don’t see all of the eyases get fed each time Mariah or Kaver arrives with prey, don’t worry– they’ll most likely get fed within a few hours.

It’s important to remember that the cameras show only one image each minute or so, and those images represent only a fraction of a second in these birds’ lives. So in reality, there’s a lot of action that you don’t see. Sometimes it looks like nothing’s happening in the nest box, when in reality there is a lot of movement– it’s just that the camera freezes the action and only catches snippets, so most of the activity isn’t apparent. It’s natural to be concerned about the eyases, but you can rest assured that we’re monitoring the nest box carefully, and if we see anything wrong, we’ll respond appropriately. We’ll also keep all of our viewers informed of any problems in the nest box.

Mariah with eayses

Here’s a final piece of advice. If you think there’s a problem with one of the eyases, the best thing to do is wait a while. Check back in an hour (or even 2 or 3!) to see if the eyases have changed position. Above all, try to avoid jumping to conclusions. In ten years, we’ve only had two eyases die in the nest box. Both of those happened last year, when Mariah was injured and couldn’t care for the newly hatched falcon chicks properly. This year she’s in top form, and keep in mind that she’s raised families for ten years running, so you can feel confident that she knows what she’s doing.

Third Egg Hatch? It Looks Likely…

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

coy_mariah_camera1_20070509-084101.jpg
We can’t be sure, and as far as we know Mariah’s been tight-billed on the subject, but there are a few clues. Mariah has been moving around a lot in the nest. That’s often an indicator that she hears the eyas pipping its way out of the shell.

Possible 3rd Egg Shell     Possible 3rd Egg Shell Zoom

Then there’s this egg shell that poked out from beneath Mariah a little before 10:00 this morning. In previous pictures from today, the two hatched eyases were grouped together with two intact eggs, so the fact that this shell has appeared may mean that at least one more egg has hatched.

3rd eyas possible first sighting

The final piece of evidence, at least from what we’ve seen so far, may be this picture from 9:01AM. Look carefully at the small round object next to Mariah’s left wing (on the right side of the picture). It’s a bit speculative, but that could be the newly hatched eyas, it’s feathers still wet and matted from having just emerged from the egg. She just hasn’t given us a good enough look yet to be 100% sure, but hopefully Mariah will leave the eyases uncovered long enough for us to get a head count. If we get a clear picture, we’ll be sure to post it here, so keep watching!

UPDATE: 11:45 – FIRST LOOK AT 3 EYASES!
Mariah with 3 eyases
Here’s our first look at the three eyases lined up under Mariah’s watchful eyes and protective wings. Can the fourth hatch be far behind?

-Jess

2nd Egg Hatches & Feeding Behavior

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Kaver Feeds 2 Eyases

Sometime early this morning a second egg hatched! Both eyases look healthy, and they’ve already begun eating. The picture above shows Kaver feeding the eyases at about 8:30AM today.

The eyases need to grow up very quickly. By the time they’re five days old their weight will have doubled. In only six weeks they’ll leave the nest box to take their first flights. By then they’ll be fully grown! That means between now and mid-June, they need to get a lot of food. Kaver will be busy bringing food these first few days. Mariah may leave the nest for short periods of time, but she’ll stay with the new eyases for most of the day. That leaves Kaver to do the majority of the hunting. He’ll need to feed himself and all the eyases, plus Mariah, but that shouldn’t be a problem for him. Kaver is a very good hunter and he’s had no trouble feeding five eyases in previous years.

Mariah and Kaver with 2 Eyases

During their early growth spurt the eyases will spend most of their time doing two things– eating and sleeping. When a parent comes into the nest box, the young falcons are likely to begin begging for food. They do this by raising their heads and vocalizing with open bills, just like in the picture above. If the parent has arrived with prey, it will hold down the food with its foot, rip off small pieces and drop them into the open bills of the hungry eyases. Sometimes both parents will feed the hatchlings together. Each eyas will continue to beg until it gets full. You’ll be able to see which eyases have had enough to eat because they store the food in their crops. A crop is a special pouch in the bird’s esophogus where the food is stored for digestion at a later time. The crop will bulge when it’s full, so it’s easy to see when an eyas has been fed. When each eyas has a full crop it will often lay down for a nap. The eyases that haven’t received enough food will continue to beg, so Mariah and Kaver will keep feeding the begging eyases until they’ve all gotten a meal. Watch for the eyases to get five, six or even more meals each day!

In between feedings, the eyases don’t move around too much. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if you see them all laying down with their wings spread out and not moving for long periods of time. It’s normal for these growing falcons to sleep much of the day away!

-Jess