Falcon Camera Questions
Have a question about peregrine falcons?
Send your question to Jeff Meshach at the World Bird Sanctuary! Your question along with Jeff's response may be posted here - so check this page often when you view the nesting falcons.
Questions from 2014
April 10, 2014
There were a lot of questions about the number of eggs and incubation period.
SiouxZee and Coal's first egg was laid on March 21, 4 days later than last year and 11 days later than the year before.
The lateness could be for many reasons. One of the best reasons is perhaps because of the harshness of the winter. With such a cold winter, all the way up to mid-March, all birds could put off laying for days to, in theory, give their eggs a better chance of surviving to hatchings.
About once every 2 days, SiouxZee laid an egg, and as of March 29, she laid her fifth egg. Last year she had 4 eggs and in 2012 and 2011 she had 5 eggs. From 2011 through 2013, all of the eggs hatched. We'll keep our fingers crossed that her 5 eggs this season will successfully hatch as well.
With her last egg laid, SiouxZee will now faithfully incubate her eggs, with a little help from Coal, through and including the last egg hatching. We should see the first egg hatch on April 29.
It takes about 30 days for a Peregrine egg to hatch. Peregrine parents don't faithfully incubate the eggs until the last egg is laid, the theory here is if mom started faithfully incubating as soon as the first egg was laid, the first 2 kids hatched would have such a head start in development that they would eventually muscle out the smaller, younger chicks and get all the food brought in by the parents. Sporadic incubation until the whole clutch is laid helps ensure all the chicks hatch in about 2 days and all are roughly the same size with an equal chance of getting the food mom and dad provide.
Several of you asked if last year's chicks have been seen.
To my knowledge, none of last year's chicks have been spotted by anyone in the world, and I am serious when I say, "world." In Latin Peregrine means, "wanderer," which describes how far these fastest of the world's animals migrate. It would not be out of the question to have a band reported from the southern tip of South America, anywhere in Alaska or even the northern most tip of Greenland.
However in December 2013, we did get a band report from a chick hatched in 2012! Someone took his picture near Lock and Dam 26, which is only about 10 miles downstream from the Ameren Missouri Sioux Energy Center.
Questions from 2013
June 18, 2013
Any sign of the the peregrine falcon family?
At last check, all the fledgling chicks are doing fine. The parents are still feeding them, and I'm sure the workers at the energy center can hear the youngsters scream when the parents bring food into the vicinity of the box.
When the chicks see a parent, even if it doesn't have prey, they will fly up to greet the parent in anticipation of grabbing food. The chicks are always hungry, so the first chick to make it to the parent will get the food. I'd bet the chick with the food gets chased by the other chicks, and if the first chick isn't fast enough, the others will steal the food.
A couple of you said you recently saw an adult at the box. If a parent comes in with food and none of the chicks are within sight, the parent may fly to the box out of habit.
How many clutches do peregrine falcons have a year? Are they mates for life?
Raising even one young peregrine is a big-time expense for the parents. With SiouxZee and Coal, courtship starts mid- to late-February; the first egg is laid in mid-March; the first chick hatches mid- to late-April; the kids fledge in early June and they don't become independent of the parents until early to mid-July. That's five months. If the parents started the whole process, say in mid-July, the second set of kids wouldn't be fledging until about mid-October. That wouldn't be enough time to beat cold weather. Also, the timing of fledging coincides with young prey birds fledging, so the peregrine youngsters have a large prey base. In mid-October, the odds of them catching easy prey would be way less, so the probability of the chicks surviving would be way less, too.
Peregrines do mate for life, but if one of the pair dies, it is replaced quickly. This scenario probably happened this spring with a peregrine pair in Kansas City. For reasons of territorial defense, it is to the surviving mate's advantage to secure another mate as quick as possible.
Will SiouxZee and Coal come back next year?
We do hope SiouxZee and Coal return next year, but nature is quite harsh, and there's no guarantee one or even both will be back. If one or both aren't, I believe there's a good chance the territory will be occupied again. With all the prey birds that travel up and down the Mississippi and with such a great box to nest in, the territory is prime real estate for peregrines. We will have to wait and see.
Thanks for the questions!
June 14, 2013
Another incredible ride on the Sioux Energy Center Falcon Cam! Many of us got to see fantastic footage of the parents, eggs and chicks, from March 17 - when the first egg was laid - until now. To watch, talk about, band and write about peregrine falcons gives me a feeling that's hard to describe. I can only thank all those responsible from World Bird Sanctuary, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Ameren Missouri for bringing this great experience to my computer.
I am already looking forward to watching and writing about the 2014 nesting peregrines at Sioux Energy Center. Will SiouxZee be the mom next year? Will Coal be back to take up his fatherly duties and provide his female and kids with food? Nature will continue to run its unpredictable course and we shall all find out.
June 11, 2013
Do peregrine parents teach their chicks how to hunt?
Hunting behavior is innate, meaning baby raptors don't have to be taught to do it by the parents. They just grow up knowing, and this was proven back when the peregrine was an endangered species. Many organizations, including World Bird Sanctuary, released baby falcons that were hatched and raised in captivity from a hack box, which food was placed in on a daily basis. Peregrine babies cannot catch food upon fledging from either the hack box or the nest, but parents continue to provide food for the babies in the vicinity of the nest, and the babies would come back to the hack box for food as they developed their flight stills.
There have been many accounts of the parents bringing a prey item that's still alive. The chicks will fly in to take the food from the parent bird, and when the youngster first grabs a prey bird that is still alive, they usually drop it like a hot potato. Of course the young falcon wasn't expecting the prey item to still be moving, but hunger helps the kids get over their fear of live prey quite quickly. It takes two to five weeks for the babies to develop good enough flight skills to catch their prey. I had the privilege of observing our first hacked peregrines in 1985, and watching them go from their first awkward flights to the sleek, efficient predators they are was incredible.
Are the chicks vocal?
Some of you observed the chicks' beaks moving rapidly, especially as mom or dad brought prey to the box. Yes, the chicks are very vocal. To have your head close to the box as a parent brings in prey would cause hearing loss after only a few prey items.
Are the chicks vulnerable to ground predators?
I never count out a raccoon raiding even the most inaccessible nest, since they are so smart and can problem-solve very well, but the nest cam box is 180 feet off the ground, and unless a raccoon figured out how to work an elevator, there is no way a raccoon or any other mammalian predator could get to the box. However, great horned owls and golden eagles can and will kill and eat peregrines chicks. With all the lights on at night at the energy center, the parents would probably see a great horned owl as it tried to approach the nest, and would attack to drive it off. There are no nesting golden eagles in Missouri or Illinois as far as I know, so hopefully no worries from that predator.
The only other predator that could raid a vulnerable nest would be a black rat snake. They are terrific climbers and do eat bird eggs and babies, but again, the parents would attack and drive a black rat snake away. Attacks by any predator have been one of the theories on why baby birds grow so quickly. The faster they leave the nest, the better chance they have of surviving to produce their own kids.
June 5, 2013
How do peregrine falcon chicks get water?
Bird kidneys are much more efficient than mammalian kidneys. Just the water within the prey fed to them has enough water in it to satisfy their needs, especially since the chicks don't exert as much as their flying parents.
What is the status of last year's chicks?
There have been no band returns from last year's chicks, which hopefully means they are all surviving just fine. In June 2012, I banded three females at a peregrine nest in Clayton, Mo., about 10 miles west of St. Louis. On Aug. 14, 2012, one of the females was spotted near a power plant in Indiana, about 176 miles from where she was banded! One of the bands I place on the legs has large numbers and letters. This band can be seen from further away, giving an observer more of a chance to read the band and gain knowledge about a bird while it is still healthy and surviving in the wild.
Thanks for the questions!
May 31, 2013
Last year we had lots of calls and questions on where the peregrine babies went, because at this time a year ago the box was empty even though it was too early for the kids to fledge the nest. Since the babies hatched, the three males should take their first flights around June 10 and the female around June 20 (45 days old and 55 days old, respectively).
There are many steel girders or beams in front and around each side of and behind the box. Last year the chicks got adventurous, left the box and hopped away from the camera view. During the first day of this, the mother peregrine flew into the box with food and the mystery was solved. The chicks came racing across the girders, hopped back into the box and took the food. Almost all raptors do what's called "branching," when they leave the nest and walk out to the branches supporting the nest. Maybe at the Sioux Energy Center we should call it "girdering!"
Banding Day Videos
Several asked about viewing the footage of the peregrine falcon chicks getting their bands.
View banding day videos.
Thanks for the questions!
May 28, 2013
A kindergarten class asked when the chicks will be able to produce babies of their own. A very good question! On average, peregrine falcons start producing babies when they are about three years old. There have been some cases where two-year-old peregrines produced babies, too.
Thanks for the questions!
May 15, 2013
A question came in about territory size, and if placing more nesting boxes at Sioux Energy Center would attract more than one pair. The average territory size of a peregrine is roughly five square miles, but that number could be a lot larger, depending on prey availability. In theory, the more prey there is in an area, the more predators the area can support, and visa versa. However, peregrines can only tolerate another nesting pair so close. Then the line in the sand (or should I say air) is drawn. I know there’s another peregrine pair about three miles up the Mississippi on the Illinois side. Another pair is about seven miles upstream from that pair, on an Illinois cliff. Peregrines are fiercely territorial, and will attack other raptors species, including eagles, when the threat comes too close to their nest.
Height of the Nest
Someone asked about the height a peregrine nest must be from the ground. In my experience, I’ve a nest that is just 30 feet from the ground, and the highest nest I’ve seen is on the AT&T building, downtown St. Louis, which is 46 stories up! I don’t think there’s even an average I can give. If the location seems right to a pair, they will take advantage.
More about Peregrine Chicks
Another few questions were about predators of peregrine chicks, why both SiouxZee and Coal will try to pile all the kids under them during certain times of the day and how often the chicks are fed. All baby birds are more vulnerable to predators while in the nest. Many kinds of mammals and snakes will prey on babies in the nest, which is why baby birds grow so rapidly. The faster they can fly from the nest, the better chance they have of surviving.
Until they reach a certain size, baby birds cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Birds are more like their reptilian-like ancestors as babies, so mom or dad must brood them, which means provide them with warmth from their bodies, especially when there are cool temperatures.
The larger baby birds are the more food the parents must bring to the nest. Around 17 days old, the parents are probably coming in three to five times a day with food, but the following week will probably double the amount of food. Around 28 days of age, the babies will have quite a bit of strength in their feet, so you will start to see the parents bringing in food. One baby will take the item and try to get as far away from the others as possible to feed itself. You also may get to see the chicks fighting over food.
Replacing the Camera
The last question I want to address came from a school group who asked if the cost of replacing the camera was affecting us not repairing or replacing the camera. Please rest assured World Bird Sanctuary, Ameren Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation want all viewers of the Falcon Cam to get the best look possible at these avian miracles. We also want the birds and the workers that must approach the nest box to be as safe as possible. Taking the camera off its pedestal for replacement would take too long to accomplish, exposing workers to attacks from the parents and keeping the parents from their babies for too long a time period. When the weather warms up and the chance for condensation lessens, we should see a perfect picture of the family from dawn to dusk.
Thanks for the questions!
May 7, 2013
We are experiencing problems with the camera at Sioux Energy Center. With all the blowing rain a few weeks ago, some moisture got into the globe that protects the camera lens. The solution to this - a small heater within the globe - burnt out. On May 17, the chicks will be banded a short distance from the nest. While this is happening, Ameren personnel will try to repair the camera. The camera lens is the worst early in the morning, but the sun warming the globe helps to clear up the moisture late morning. We apologize for this problem and will do our best to repair it.
Several had questions about the process of egg hatching. At about 30 days, the chicks are ready to emerge from the egg. All unhatched bird chicks are equipped with an extra point on the end of the upper beak called the egg tooth. The chicks use this to punch a series of holes (that eventually form a circle) at the fat end of the egg. Once the circle is completed, the end of the egg falls away and the chick emerges. Mom and dad only provide verbal encouragement; they squeak and twitter, which stimulates the chick to keep making the holes with its egg tooth. The tooth should disappear soon, but can now still be seen on the chicks when their heads are sillouetted against the dark back of the box. Once the egg pipps, or the first hole is created, the process usually takes about 24 hours. It's hard work for such a small being, and there are times where the chick stops and rests. If an egg doesn't hatch, the chick's movements eventually push the egg off to the side. All four eggs have hatched this year - two chicks hatched on April 26 and the other two on April 27.
Leaving the Nest
Another had a question about the timeframe between hatching and fledging, or leaving the nest. All birds grow very quickly, for while in the nest they are more vulnerable to predation. Male peregrines usually fledge at 40-45 days, and females 50-55 days. The smaller, more agile males gain their flight skills earlier, with one of the thoeries being they leave the nest first so the bigger females don't mistake their brothers for food!
Lastly, I want to brace everyone for the potential of chick deaths. Because of natural processes, whether bacterial, large disparity in chick sizes or many other factors, chicks do die in the nest. Last year we were able to watch all five chicks leave the nest. This year and in years to come, we may not be so lucky. We cannot interfere with nature. To try and do something for a chick that may not be getting as much food as the others could jeopardize the other chicks, and maybe even me! The nest is 180 feet off the ground, just being up so high is a risky situation.
Eggs are laid two to three days apart. Usually a female bird will wait until the last egg is laid before she starts to seriously incubate. The wait helps make sure all the eggs hatch close to one another in time. If a bird has to incubate the first egg early, it may have a six- to nine- day head start on the last laid egg. Such a difference usually means the last chick or two hatched might get muscled out of food by the older chicks. This year, SiouxZee had to start incubating her eggs right as the first was laid because March was so cold. But as of this morning, all four chicks look healthy and happy, even getting a bite to eat when dad Coal brought in food.
Thanks for the questions!
April 9, 2013
Jeff, is there a pattern for the male falcon of when and what times he will feed or replace the female sitting on the eggs so she can eat? - Mark D.
There is probably a pattern on when he relieves her at the nest while eggs or young babies are present. Eggs must be incubated constantly once the incubation starts. Baby birds are much like reptiles; until they achieve the size and down feathers to regulate their own body heat, they must rely on the heat from mom or dad. This "temporarily changing of the guards" pattern can be figured out by someone that could watch most of the day for a few days in a row. There probably is not a pattern for dad bringing food to the nest for mom, only because dad doesn't catch food consistently enough to show a pattern. For birds of prey, it has been estimated for every food item brought to the nest, there are 10 unsuccessful attempts to catch food.
Does the mother falcon have to lie in a certain way so she doesn't crush or crack the eggs when she's incubating them? - Caitlin S.
Mom rarely puts all her weight the eggs. She parallels her lower legs (called the tarsus) to the nest materials under her and spreads out her legs enough to fit all the eggs in between them, with probably an egg or two forward from her legs and an egg or two behind her legs. One of the theories of why females are larger than males in birds of prey is the bigger body more efficiently incubates eggs and broods young babies.
March 27, 2013
Hi Jeff, is this the same pair of falcons as last year? And if so, do they migrate south and then return to this nesting site, or do they spend winter here? - Robert L.
It's a pretty safe bet to say that the Sioux peregrines stay on their territory year round. Adult birds and sometimes juveniles are seen periodically throughout the non-breeding season by Ameren Missouri's Sioux Energy Center personnel, either around the nesting box or perched near the energy center. Peregrines from further north definitely migrate south for the winter - sometimes all the way to South America.
We weren't able to get the band number of the male last year, so I'm not sure if this male is the same one. We did get his band number earlier this breeding season and now know this male was hatched at Ameren Missouri's Labadie Energy Center in 2004. I actually put the band on that bird in June of that year.
Thanks for the questions!