In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day held back on April 22, the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), with citizen involvement, compiled observations of all bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests in Ohio. The results were extraordinary. Biologists counted 707 active nests, which is a substantial increase over the four nesting pairs found in the state in 1979.
But bald eagles aren’t the only avian conservation success story in Ohio. Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) are about 15-20 inches in length (the size of a crow) and have distinctive black sideburns on their face. Peregrines, diving at speeds of more than 240 miles per hour, are the fastest animal on the planet. Imagine getting hit by an object traveling 240 miles per hour. That’s what pigeons feel, the falcon’s favorite prey.
Like bald eagles, a by-product of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) resulted in female peregrines laying calcium-deficient eggs which cracked when the female tried to incubate. Peregrine falcons were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970, but thanks to conservation measures, these falcons have made a comeback and are no longer considered endangered.
Peregrine falcon articles saturated the central Ohio news media in the early 1990s, due to ODOW successfully “hacking” birds on the Rhodes Tower, the state office building and Ohio governor’s administrative office. Hacking is defined as the release of young falcons from an artificial nest (aerie). Many fledglings were reared at the Rhodes Tower before upgrades to the office building forced the ODOW to find them a new nesting site. They now nest at the Riffe Tower in downtown Columbus.
Peregrines didn’t historically nest in Ohio, as they prefer high cliffs. But, a pair was observed building a nest on a Toledo high-rise in 1988. The cities of Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Toledo and Cincinnati were selected for peregrine releases starting in 1989. To entice the birds, nest boxes were placed on tall buildings in these cities. Through ODOW’s efforts, more than 40 nesting pairs of peregrines now call Ohio home.
A wonderful blog, authored by ODOW biologists, contains exhaustive observational notes regarding brooding behavior and photos of parents and chicks. The site can be found at http://ohioperegrinefalcons.blogspot.com/.
It’s a boy, it’s a girl, we don’t know! Four falcon eggs hatched as of May 4 at the Riffe Tower. The hatchlings, growing in leaps and bounds, are fluffy, white balls of cuteness now. Congratulations to our fine-feathered parents. Other conservation partners assist the ODOW with chronicling the falcon parents. Triad Architect’s periodic live stream (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyu9bPI8psATznCuyJdhVVA) allows the user to observe the pair. By clicking, “subscribe” to the Columbus Peregrine Falcons YouTube page, you can be notified of any current live stream.
It’s unlikely that you could entice peregrine falcons to nest on your property, given their proclivity for steep cliffs or skyscrapers. But you could encourage its smaller cousin, the American kestrel (Falco sparverius), to nest in your backyard. American kestrels are pint-sized, only 8-12 inches in length (about the size of a blue jay). Kestrels are sometimes called sparrow hawks, and their preferred prey are large insects, followed by mice and voles.
Kestrel populations are declining, in part, because of the lack of suitable nesting cavities/boxes. The old adage, “build it and they will come” applies to kestrel boxes. Hubby and I installed a kestrel box at the top of a two-story barn after seeing kestrels in the farm fields around our property.
I said to him, “I wonder how long it will take before the kestrels find the box?” Hubby’s reply was, “Well, there’s one hovering around the box right now.” The birds started using the box about 10 minutes after we installed it! Building a kestrel box is easy – visit: https://kestrel.peregrinefund.org/nest-monitoring for more information and a link to box plans.
So why write an article about falcons? My interest in these falcons was piqued by one of my mentors at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Bill Mattox, former assistant chief of the Division of Water. Bill’s passion was birds of prey, particularly peregrine falcons. He established the Greenland Peregrine Falcon Survey, leading teams to locate nest cliffs, banding young and adult birds, and collecting falcon eggshells and prey samples on the island of Greenland. He later co-founded the Conservation Research Foundation to research raptors in Idaho. I learned recently that Bill passed away.
Through Bill’s research, and the research performed by countless other wildlife biologists, conservationists learned enough about peregrine falcons to save them from extinction. This theme is similar to other species’ success stories, such as saving our nation’s symbol (bald eagle). As biologists shared information concerning these species and what citizens could do to help, the public stepped up and helped protect/create habitat, built nest boxes, monitored populations, etc. This brings us to present day with the hope that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy these raptors and continue to serve as good stewards. So, fly high peregrine falcons, denizens of vertical cities and skyscrapers – and fly high, Bill.
Kim Marshall is the communication specialist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.