Random Peregrine

Ah, Migration, I love you so. Driving around on my bird survey route, I see a ton of red-tailed hawks perched on power poles. The other day as I approached a pole I thought, "Oh hey, that's not the chunky red-tailed hawk shape I know..."

Sure enough, it was a hatch year peregrine falcon (and banded at that).

Alas the bird was not thrilled to have a scope on it and it flew after a few photos so I was unable to get the band numbers.

But a random and unexpected peregrine falcon among corn fields is always fun to find.

Peregrine Falcons At The Colonnade

I was out at the Colonnade to check out the peregrine falcons that nest on that building.  I had a KARE 11 segment this week and when I drove by the tall building, I could make one of the birds perched on the nest box ledge.  When I returned with my digiscoping equipment that male visible.  This is a nesting territory that I've blogged about before and some very interesting prey items have been found in their nest box.

As I watched him for a bit, I wondered if he had a female laying eggs or incubating.  Then he kept looking up and soon began to vocalize.  When I volunteered at The Raptor Center and we would be outdoors with the education birds, we learned that if they looked up, you should look up, they saw an aerial raptor--sometimes it would be a mere pepper speck to me.  I tried to follow the male's gaze skyward but could not see any other raptors flying over.

Then I saw her.  A big female circling...and then I saw a second one (who was too fast for a photo).  An aerial battle between two females was underway.  Look at those distinct pointed wing tips that separates a falcon from a red-tailed hawk! In raptors, females are larger than the males (especially with peregrine falcons) and the females will engage in bloody battles to the death for prime territory.  There's an infamous story from the Colonnade in the 1990s of 2 females who battle for over 2 and a half hours for the nest box--one losing an eye and eventually her life.  Excited at my discovery of an aerial battle, I texted my buddy Mark Martell who has been involved with banding the birds at this building.  He immediately replied, "I can just see you out there shouting, 'Chick fight!'"

He wasn't too far off in his guess.  The best part of it was as the females circled the building and chased each other, the male remained at his perch screaming...perhaps he too was calling, "Chick fight...over MEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Actually, he did something kind of interesting.  As the females duked it out in the air, he hunched over, fluffed his feathers and appeared to flash his cloaca.  I wondered if this was some sort of display of encouragement to his mate or he was just flashing the goods to the females, "Yes, ladies, this is what I have to offer the winner of this display!"

The battle was probably more about the territory than the male.

It wasn't a very serious battle and it soon ended.  The other female was chased off and the remaining female circled the building and flew to the ledge where the next box it tucked away.  Mark said that the people who monitor the falcons from inside the Colonnade report there is one egg in the nest.

After all settled down, the male continued his watch of their skies from a nearby ledge.  Then he walked towards his reflection on the windows.  If one were to attribute human emotions to this bird, he could be thinking, "Yeah, boy, you are the total package.  They wanted you, my man."

But who knows what drew this bird to the window.

If you want to watch the peregrines at the Colonnade there is a small parking lot to the northeast of the building--just to the east of the parking garage for the Colonnade.  You could also try driving to the top of the Colonnade's parking garage and watching from a scope there but I'm not sure how the building's security team feels about that.  The Colonnade is on the northeast corner of hwy 394 and the Xenia Ave & Park Place exit on the west side of Minneapolis.

If you know what to look for, you can usually make out one of the adults perched on the ledges of the building.  But to see the falcons well, you will need to have a scope or at the very least some binoculars to get a better look.

Hazards Of Hand Feeding Raptors Part 2

I hope readers who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful day full of favorite foods, gratitude and a minimum of family drama. Non Birding Bill and I thought of all the things we're grateful for and one thing that I am always grateful for is the opportunity to work with birds of prey. There's something captivating about the intimacy of a bird ravenously feeding from your gloved hand.

I found some more video footage I took of hand feeding raptors that again demonstrates some of the perils of hand feeding birds, although not nearly as gross as the red-tailed hawk incident. When you feed peregrines on the fist--especially something like quail, you just know that you're going to end up messy at the end. In the wild, peregrines will fly to a perch and pluck off feathers of their prey to gain access to the meat (many raptors do pluck out the larger feathers of prey). In this video, it's interesting to note how large the quail is in relation to the falcon...and how little is left at the end.

Incidentally, peregrines are one of the reasons I'm no longer a vegetarian. They make eating meat look so, so good.

Did you love the little "quail mustache" that the bird has while chowing down? And here is what your pants (and sometimes your hair) looks like when you are finished feeding a peregrine:


You get covered in plucked feathers and unwanted bits of meat.

Gyrfalcon Antics In Cape May

Some may recall from last year that I blogged about John Wood and The Raptor Project his bird program that he does at Cape May. One of the highlights is that he flies his white gyrfalcon out on the beach. He flies to a lure (an object with some meat attached to a long line that he lassos overhead to get the bird to fly down.

This year, things went a little different. Saturday, as blogged earlier, it was wind and rain, but John flew the falcon anyway. Apparently the bird decided, "screw this" and instead flew after one of the many wild pigeons and to find a nice, warm place to eat. So, off the bird went, it nailed a pigeon and flew out of site. John, being a wise and experienced falconer, had a radio telemetry unit on the bird and was able to track it to town. After the bird flew from sight, it found a shoe store with doors open and landed in the store with a decapitated pigeon and began to rip it apart. Imagine that you know nothing of birds and you are absorbed in shoe shopping when a bird the size of a red-tail, but all white flies in with a headless pigeon--out of nowhere...needless to say, it caused a stir. The shop owner called 911 and Animal Control (I think Animal Control might have given John a hard time about his falcon killing a pigeon--apparently, they didn't know that pigeons are non native and not under any protection in the US). Anyway, John returned to the convention center with his bird safe in hand and with a headless pigeon.

He tried to take the gyrfalcon out Sunday and as soon as he and the white bird emerged from the convention center, the pigeons were off, instantly recognizing the bird from the day before.

John tried to get the falcon to focus on the lure, the bird was having none of it. It tasted pigeon the day before and it wanted more. You can see the bird in the above photo ignoring John and focusing on the fat, winged, tasty delights circling on the other side of the beach.

No matter what John tried, the falcon just really wanted pigeon and kept trying to take off after them. He opted not to fly the bird and risk losing it in town again. Smart move, but still pretty to see the bird in a beach setting.

Falcon Fascination and Wetlands

Sharon's still recovering from having a tree fall on her while eating mushrooms, but, communicating only through eye blinks, she asked me to pass this one to all of you

Dear Sharon,

I'm writing from KQED Public Broadcasting in San Francisco. We recently did a TV story called Falcon Fascination for QUEST - our multimedia series on environment, science and nature. Here’s a brief description:

"When it comes to these Bay Area internet celebrities, you can peak into their homes 24 hours day. QUEST visits a famous pair of Peregrine Falcons in downtown San Jose, whose family dramas-- from courtship to parenthood-- are caught on webcam."

You can watch the video in a much bigger form on the KQED website.

Oh, and while I'm posting links, here's one about the Wetlands Reserve Program:

Congress is considering whether or not to include the wetlands reserve program in the next farm bill. Considering the state of affairs with wetlands in this country, this is really important to have. We've already lost 90% of our wetlands.
It has never been easier to let your representatives know about this.

Here's the link.


Generally Awesome Birding In Duluth

Duluth was just unbelievably gorgeous this past weekend. I was surprised that there were still so many leaves on the trees. I bundled up right now. I'm thinking back to last Friday when the temps were pushing 80 degrees in the Twin Cities and less than a week later I see snow flurries out of my window as I type this blog entry.

I had so much fun with my family this weekend. Here is my mom and Terri looking at a female merlin while sitting in the blind.
My favorite place to stay in Duluth, when not sleeping in my car is the Inn on Gitche Gumee. Each room has a theme and gorgeous view of Lake Superior and the enormous garden. The garden attracts a whole host of birds and during migration, it fun to sit on the deck with some coffee, wine or scotch and watch eagles, peregrines, gulls and warblers pass over. Some nights you can even hear night migrants chipping overhead.

The Inn is owned by Butch and Julie and Butch made all the bed frames, I loved the birch frame that was in one of our rooms. My mom and sisters love it and insist on staying here when they visit.

There's a trail behind the Inn that connects with other trails and if you follow it, you find this odd little natural art landscape. Rocks are stacked on each other, dead trees are planted upside down, etc. Its kind of Blair Witch Project/fairy land all in one.

I took my sisters back there and when Monica snapped this photo of Terri an orb showed up in the photo...ghost or fairy?

I had one of those "magical bird guide" moments. As we continued on the trail I told my sisters that sometimes you see grouse along her (meaning at some point in time over the years that I have been here, I once flushed a grouse). Two minutes later I found a grouse sitting about eye level in a balsam--I have never found a grouse before I flushed it. Monica and Terri got a great look and even got to watch it fly away.

Gray jays are EVERYWHERE in Duluth right now. I have never seen so many. There have been several reports on the MN bird listservs and there was a flock hanging around the Inn and at the banding station. I pished this one in and Monica got a photo. They look like chickadees on steroids.

Here is a photo of Frank, Monica and Terri. I was really proud of Monica for going in the woods with me (literally and figuratively). She's not an outdoors type at all. Frank has been banding for over 37 years (longer than they have been banding at Hawk Ridge). He studies peregrines (he loves, loves, loves the peregrine falcon) and also studies what color of pigeons are more attractive to raptors--does color make a difference, and he also studies ways of using pigeons humanely so they do not get injured in the process of attracting hawks. He is a master bander and is in very good standing with US Fish and Wildlife. Frank has a huge raptor background. When I started at The Raptor Center he was the Curator of Birds and taught me how to handle raptors and give programs. His enthusiasm for raptors and their conservation is infectious. All of his research is turned in at the end of the season and can be accessed through US Fish and Wildlife.

Sunday was such perfect weather we got in 41 birds to the station! We were behind the blind when I took this photo and they had just taken those two sharp-shinned hawks out of the net. My sister Terri was there when one of the banders shouted "Freeze!" Another hawk was spotted and was heading for the nets. I got this photo of Terri and I love it, she looks so excited to be there while none of us were supposed to move.

Someone asked earlier in the comments if we are worried about the birds biting us. Small hawks like sharp-shinned hawks don't pack too much of a punch with their bill. If you go to Hawk Ridge, they will bring out sharpies and the naturalists will happily show you how much the bite doesn't hurt.

The talons really are the business end of the bird. We had so many birds all at once--I think at this point there were 7 or 8 that we got in a row, we gave one to Terri to hold and she got nailed by one of the talons (the claws on the end of the toes). Terri was very excited to be footed.

Here the photo of the bird that footed Terri, a passage sharp-shinned hawk. This is no poor little bird, this is a strong creature that can take a few minutes at a banding station and live to hunt and produce future generations.

Merlins on the other hand to pack a wallop in their bite. Falcons have sharper bills than other raptors and they can really slice up your hand. With merlins (or any falcon) you mind the talons as well as the bill.

Red-tailed hawk talons are not only sharp, but have one heck of a grip so you really, really watch yourself around one of these. I regret to say that years ago I got footed by an education red-tail and it was not fun and oh so painful--I'll save that story for another day. Red-tail bills aren't very sharp, but they are bigger and more blunt so I would recommend having the bill too close to your nose.

Before I headed home I stopped at Hawk Ridge to take a quick walk on one of the trails-- the Summit Overlook or "yellow dot trail" is my favorite. While there I heard a hairy woodpecker, it was working dead balsam about six feet in front of me. When it caught me watching it, the bird flew to another tree further away. I proceeded on the trail towards the tree and then I heard another woodpecker chip that was not a hairy coming from the same tree only higher. I whipped out my Handheld Birds from by back pocket, went to woodpeckers and clicked on the species I thought it was. I played the call and that confirmed:

I was hearing a black-backed woodpecker. I pished and the bird flew down from the tree to just above eye level for me. I was able to get the above photo without my binoculars, I was that close. What a great way to top off a great birding weekend. Hawk Ridge is a fairly reliable spot for black-backs but this is hands down the best look I have ever had of one.

When it finished, I went over and took pictures of the scaling the bird was engaged in. Funny, I was never interested in scaling before Arkansas.