After carefully monitoring the progress of the Peregrine Falcon fledglings at both the Trapps and Millbrook cliffs, we have determined that they are now sufficiently mature and we can fully lift the climbing and bouldering closures. This marks the first successful fledging at the Trapps since 2005, and the second success at the Trapps since breeding Peregrines became extinct in our area in the mid-20th century. Thanks to the climbing community for their support of our conservation mission and patience during the closures, and to the dozens of Peregrine Watch volunteers who have generously donated their time and energy to help protect these endangered birds.
We have an exciting update from the Millbrook and Trapps Peregrine Falcon nests — Two chicks have now fledged from each cliff nest site! Several times in recent days, our Peregrine Watch observers have had the treat of watching firsthand as young peregrine falcons stretched their wings and took to the air. They’re still a bit clumsy but over the next several months their skills will likely improve and they will become stronger and more independent. For now, look for them in front of and above the cliffs as they young chase each other in what looks like a game of tag. As they become more adept at flying they will begin to chase butterflies and dragonflies, and even crows and ravens, as they test out their soon-to-be powerful wings and deadly talons. While they learn to hunt they will still rely on their parents for food, probably for a few more months. As you stroll along Undercliff Road or hike the Millbrook Ridge trail, listen for the young begging their parents for food- now that they are fully grown and flying they will be constantly hungry, and constantly demanding that their parents feed them! They will most likely stay quite close to home for several more weeks, so don’t expect them to head off on the long journeys that their parents are capable of. They are only capable of much shorter flights, and will still rely on perch sites not far from the eyrie.
Here is a great video from a nestcam in Pennsylvania showing a young Peregrine’s very first flight. His siblings are not quite ready to take the plunge, but they are stretching their wings and clearly thinking about venturing out into the sky.
We have seen young peregrines at the Trapps and Millbrook active, moving along the ledge, and hopping and stretching their wings. They are getting closer and closer to fledging but they are still reliant on the adults not only to bring them food, but to shred it into bite-sized pieces, so they still have some maturing to do before they are ready to fledge from the nest. By now they have lost a lot of their down feathers and grown in most of their juvenile feathers. Their movement control and coordination is rapidly improving, and very soon feeding time will actually start to get tricky for the adults, as the exuberant young get quite aggressive about taking their food from mom and dad. Even once they fledge, they will still rely on their parents for food for quite awhile as they build up their aerial hunting skills.
In this video you can see a young peregrine falcon moving about in its nest, stabbing at prey remains in the nest and flapping its wings. This bird is roughly the same age as the Trapps and Millbrook young are now. Though this video doesn’t give a location, this is clearly near the ocean, given the sound of gulls in the background audio.
We will have additional updates on the Bonticou peregrines soon!
Our Peregrine Watch Citizen Science team and our Conservation Science staff continue to report signs of positive activity at the Peregrine Falcon nests. As the young quickly grow, they have begun to molt some of their downy feathers, and new juvenile feathers are growing in. This juvenile plumage will give the young a different appearance than the adults: juveniles have an overall brownish cast to the feathers, with heavy streaking on the breast and belly. Adults have a slate-gray back and wings, with a creamy breast and belly flecked with dark bars.
As the young grow and become more active, the adults must work hard to keep everyone fed and healthy. The male peregrine was largely responsible for provisioning during the early stages of nesting, but now the female will pitch in more and more. Since she is so much larger than the male, she will typically take larger prey than he is able to catch and kill. Larger prey species like Rock Pigeons or even small ducks may become an important part of the family’s diet. The nestlings are still completely dependent on their parents for food, but they are becoming better able to handle and manipulate the prey that their parents bring to them.
Click the link above for a great video of an adult peregrine feeding a large nestling in Cornwall, England!
The recent weather has made nest observations difficult, but we think that all three Peregrine Falcon pairs are now caring for young!
In all three nests, the young should still be covered with down and heavily dependent on their parents for all of their needs. As is typical for birds of prey, Peregrine Falcon young mature very slowly, particularly when compared to songbirds like American Robins or Eastern Phoebes. Instead of producing lots of young, very quickly, with minimal investment of care or resources, Peregrine Falcons take the strategy of producing relatively few offspring but investing heavily in their care- similar to the strategy that humans take! For this reason, any nest failures can take a heavy toll on the Peregrine population, since breeding adults are slow to replace themselves. This is one reason that this species is still listed as an Endangered Species by New York State- after a population crash like the ones Peregrines (and other birds, like Bald Eagles) experienced in the middle of the 20th century, they take a long time to recover.
Click the link above for a video of Peregrine highlights from the Peregrine Falcon Exhibit at the Bell Museum.
The activity at our three Peregrine Falcon nest sites continues to pick up!
The Millbrook pair continue to care for their new nestlings, and this week the behavior at the Trapps nest site indicates that they, too, are caring for young. At Bonticou, the female appears to still be incubating, but it is unclear from her behavior whether she is incubating eggs, or brand new young.
Peregrines are aerial hunters and prey exclusively on other birds. Since incubation started, the male of the pair has been almost solely responsible for feeding his family. Once his young hatch, he has to step up his hunting activity considerably. Male Peregrines are typically much smaller than females of the species (by as much as 30%!), and accordingly, he usually hunts and kills smaller birds than the female is able to take. Common prey species for male Peregrines include Northern Flickers, Bluejays, and different types of blackbirds. When he has had a successful hunting foray he will return to the nest site and transfer the prey to the female, who often comes out of the nest to meet him, sometimes accepting the prey transfer in mid-air.
Click the link above for a video of a female retrieving a prey item from her mate and feeding it to their young offspring in Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick Canada.
While the Peregrines at the Trapps and Bonticou appear to still be incubating, the behavior at Millbrook suggests that the egg or eggs have hatched! We are seeing increased activity of both the male and female birds as they step up hunting to feed the hungry chick(s), and increase their defense of the nest. Over the next few weeks we expect both parents to become more and more aggressive toward potential invaders. When Peregrines first hatch from their eggs, they only weigh about 40 grams and are covered in white downy feathers. They can not thermoregulate, and are completely dependent on their parents for food, protection from the elements, and defense against enemies. You can see what brand new Peregrine Falcon hatchlings look like in this great nestcam footage from Australia (click the date above for the link to the video.)
Once again this week there are no changes to our three pairs of breeding Peregrines – and no news is good news! We don’t know the exact date that they started to incubate, but incubation usually takes about a month. If the eggs hatch successfully, that process will take one to two days and at that point the male will start even more aggressively defending the nest and the female may even show some aggression to the male.
When the young are born, they’re similar in size to a newly hatched domestic chicken chick. They’re covered in white, downy feathers and they’re not very coordinated or mobile. At this stage the mother gets very protective and attentive. Enjoy this video of Peregrine parents hatching chicks - click on the date above for the video.
Sometimes no news is good news. This week we haven’t observed any changes to our three pairs of nesting Peregrine Falcons. Since we believe that the Bonticou and Trapps pairs are incubating, and there is a good chance that the Millbrook pair is also incubating. During incubation there is very little visible activity at the nest. Most of the time the female bird is in charge of protecting the eggs from the elements, while the male bird does most of the hunting for both of them. Since most adult Peregrine Falcons are very efficient hunters, this typically doesn’t take up a lot of his time, so he often spends the remainder of his time at sentry posts along the cliff, keeping an eye out for any potential danger. Occasionally he will take over incubating duties so that the female can take a break.
Nest exchanges are often accompanied by some ritualistic behavior, which you can see in this video. Also observe the size difference between the two birds - female peregrines are usually quite a bit larger than the males. Click on the date above to see a video of nest exchanges!
Based on the behaviors that our Peregrine Watch volunteers have observed, it looks like both the Trapps and Bonticou Peregrines are now incubating eggs. The Millbrook pair is being more elusive, but we know they have established their nest site for this year and we do think they have started laying eggs.
Peregrine falcons typically lay anywhere from 1-4 eggs (or even 5 in very rare circumstances), but there is about a day between each egg laid. It can often take a week or so from the onset of laying to the beginning of incubation.
We'll be posting regular updates from our volunteers on this page and on Facebook, but in the meantime, enjoy images from this fantastic webcam hosted by the Peregrine Fund in Boise, ID. (Click on the date above for the link).