Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Peregrine Falcons

Maya, one of Utica's Peregrines stretches her wings on the Gold Dome Bank building in 2009

Maya and Tor on their nest tray in 2009
For several years, I’ve been keeping track of the Peregrine Falcons that live in Utica. For about a decade individual Peregrines were being seen in the downtown Utica area, but it wasn’t until 2008 that a resident pair was finally confirmed. That couple, named Maya and Tor, nested on a prominent covered ledge on Utica’s historic Gold Dome Bank building. These Peregrines were unusual in many regards: first of all, the nest site that they chose was only 4 stories high, which was fully 10 stories lower than the lowest nesting Peregrine in all of New York State. Also unusual was the fact that they nested so late in the season. In ’08 an egg didn’t appear on the nest ledge until June 4th. Of course, by June most other urban nesting Peregrines in the State had already, or were close to fledging their young. At that time we thought the late egg date was a fluke, but in ’09, they did the very same thing –and produced an egg in the first week of June. In both years, they produced only single eggs. This again, was atypical for the species. Still another quirky thing about this pair is that they seemed to be incapable of hatching their eggs. Incubation didn’t seem to be the problem. Both birds shared that duty, and the nest watchers concurred that the egg was well looked after. The ’08 egg was retrieved following the nesting season and though it was never analyzed for embryo development, the shell was intact and obviously didn’t accidentally crack during incubation.
The Peregrine egg retrieved from the nest ledge
All quirks aside, it was an amazing experience to have such an interesting and enigmatic species darting around the downtown area –and treating it like their canyon. The fact that their nest ledge was so low, allowed many people to get very close looks at these normally hard to see raptors.
Tor, the male Peregrine in 2009
There was no nesting attempt made in 2010. Tor, the male Peregrine, presumably died after hitting a window on a building across the street from the Gold Dome Bank (an all too common fate for raptors and for millions of songbirds annually.)  All we know for sure is that Tor was never seen again following that incident. Maya never found a new mate to replace him. It was difficult to believe that she didn’t have the opportunity to meet new males as they migrated or just wandered through the area. It’s probably that she just couldn’t find one that she thought was suitable. So 2010 and 2011 went by with Maya holding the downtown territory, but not breeding.
On this past Sunday, I went downtown with local wildlife photographer, Dave Cesari , and we confirmed the presence of a pair of Peregrine Falcons in the downtown area. These were 2 unknown birds, which begged the question, where is Maya and why did she let these foreigners into her territory? Did she vacate the territory willingly or was she driven out? Hopefully, she didn’t meet with an accident. There also remains the possibility that she will return to reclaim her territory.
The new male Peregrine -2012  photo by Cesari
The new female - 2012 photo by Cesari
On Sunday, the new birds were seen flying around the 3 highest buildings in that  small downtown area. They perched on high window ledges of the State Office Building and on the Hotel Utica. It remains to be seen if this new pair will remain in the area to breed. Though the new male is a full adult, the female is a juvenile and juvenile females don’t often succeed in their first nesting attempts. Also, there is a severe shortage of suitable nest sites in Utica. Peregrine prefer covered ledges located high up on tall buildings. The 3 tallest building in Utica lack these types of ledges. And building owners have been resisting the idea of installing nest boxes on their structures. Because it is so low, the Gold Dome Bank site that Maya and Tor used will probably not be considered by these new Peregrines.
Adult Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk nest
Back at the Nature Preserve, other raptors are busy with nest duties. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks made their nest just beyond the border of our large woods. I had no idea the nest was there until the female Red-tail flew off the nest to scream at me. These hawks have been patrolling the surrounding woods all winter and I wondered if they would stay to nest. It’s somewhat unusual to have Red-tailed Hawks so committed to a forested habitat. Though it’s not atypical for them to nest in the forest, most Red-tails find their prey in more open areas. It seems that the female is still incubating eggs at this point. If all goes well, there should be young in the nest in several weeks.

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