Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Duluth's Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcon defending her nest
Rob McIntyre and "Amy" in 2006
(Transcript of For the Birds, June 14, 2011)

Usually I like to report bird news as quickly as possible, but this year there was so much sad news with regard to Duluth’s nesting Peregrine Falcons that I’ve had a hard time putting together my thoughts.

When a pair of Peregrine Falcons first nested on the Greysolon building in 2004, neither bird was banded. Without a unique leg band, there was no way to be certain that the same female or male nested year after year, but in 2006, the banders managed to catch the female and put a band on her leg, and named her Amy. Amy has raised chicks in that box with an unbanded male every year since. But this April suddenly a new female was in the nest. We’ll never know how old Amy was, but the new female was incubating four eggs. Two have not hatched—it’s possible Amy had laid them before being driven off by the new female, or it’s possible they were infertile or were laid during a bad cold spell—we’ll never know. But the other two chicks are hatched and seem to be doing well.

If it was sad losing Amy, there aren’t words to express my sorrow at another loss. The horrible tornado that ripped through Minneapolis in May killed two people, including Rob McIntyre, president of the Raptor Resource Project who was instrumental in bringing the peregrine falcon back to Minnesota and, in particular, putting up the box on the Greysolon building where our Peregrines have nested since 2004. I have some really nice photos of Rob from 2006 when he was climbing to the roof of the building to band the peregrines while Amy the mother Peregrine divebombed him several times, hitting his hardhat with her talons with a loud thwack. Rob was a really nice guy. His house was destroyed in the tornado, yet he brought his chainsaw next door to help a neighbor in need and collapsed from either a heart attack or stroke.

This year Bob Anderson and Amy Ries from the Raptor Resource Project came on June 13 to band the chicks—people familiar with the annual banding felt Rob’s absence acutely, because it had always been the three of them together. They put bands on the two chicks, which they verified are both females. The one sporting a band with the number 71 over a band with the letter W was named Waters, after Debbie Waters, the Education Director at Hawk Ridge. And Julie O’Connor, who is the familiar face in downtown Duluth in summer, teaching people about our nesting peregrines, called me this afternoon to tell me that the chick wearing a band with the number 70 over a band with the letter W was named Laura, after me! What an honor, to have a living, breathing Peregrine Falcon named for me!

Duluth’s Peregrine Watch is a very small-scale project operating on a shoestring yet providing valuable services for people who work or visit downtown, and for the Peregrines themselves. Julie O’Connor and volunteers are downtown every day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10–2, with a spotting scope, a laptop showing the nest cam, and lots of enthusiasm and knowledge. They share information about the peregrines, getting people enthused about the birds that make our downtown more lively and exciting. When Peregrine chicks fledge, they often have a few crash landings before they get good. But now that so many people know about them, people know what to do and who to call if they spot a peregrine chick in trouble, improving the birds’ prospects.

This year the project is badly underfunded. In a time when the economy is so poor, a lot of people don’t have much discretionary income. But if you do have a bit, consider sending them a donation to keep this wonderful program going, and to give that chick named Laura a better chance for a long life.

Learn more about Peregrine Watch at their website. And join their facebook group!