Falcon cam chronicles bird development
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 12:05
Each day, an online webcam featuring four local peregrine falcon chicks and their parents gets 1,400 hits. Bill Stewart, conservation chair of the Delmarva Ornithological Society, refers to some of these viewers as “falcaholics.”
“Some of them are just crazy, how attached they get to this falcon cam,” Stewart says. “They send emails asking if we’ve noticed one of the chicks is not being fed.”
A 24-hour camera capturing the birth and daily activities of the peregrine falcon hatchlings and their parents, CJ and Red Girl, streams live from the top of the Brandywine Building in Wilmington. The webcam footage can be viewed on the Delmarva Ornithological Society’s and Department of Natural Resources of Environmental Control’s websites.
Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon says the peregrine falcon nest was first discovered on the 19th floor of the building in 1992. Since the falcons couldn’t build a suitable nest, staff in the department built a nest box there, Gonzon says.
Stewart says the falcon camera was initially developed in 2010 by the Delmarva Ornithological Society, and funded by DuPont’s Clear Into The Future Program, which works to preserve the Delaware Estuary. Gonzon says peregrine falcons are not a naturally occurring species in the state because of their nesting habits.
“They are cliff nesters—we don’t have the cliffs of the Appalachians and Piedmont Hill,” Gonzon says. “They nest on structures that replace cliffs in the natural environment, like the tops of bridges and buildings.”
He says peregrine falcons were once considered endangered but were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999. The nest box was part of a larger restoration effort after the nationwide ban of DDT, a harmful pesticide which caused a downfall in the population of raptor birds, he says.
“In the ’90s, if you had a falcon nest, you would do what you can to preserve the population,” Gonzon says.
The nest box is made of plywood and features a door and a small ledge, where young chicks go to exercise their wings. When they’re old enough, the adults lure them out to the ledge with food to take their leap of faith and fly for the first time, Gonzon says.
Gonzon says the softball-sized camera, located at the top of the nest box, allows people to observe the falcons without being invasive.
“Right now, it’s a lot of fun,” Gonzon says. “You can watch the chicks develop from white-grey puff balls. You can watch the adults bring food and feed them. Now is really the best time to watch them.”
Stewart says he hopes viewing the falcons on the webcam will encourage people to participate in Lights Out! Wilmington, a campaign encouraging building owners to turn off their lights during bird migration periods.
“Lights Out! Wilmington is set up to inform and educate folks who aren’t aware of the millions and millions of birds who are injured from flying into buildings,” Stewart says. “They will be chasing prey, and because of the light’s reflection, it looks like they are flying into the sky.”
Delaware wildlife photographer Kim Steininger stated in an email message that she has been trying to get a webcam set up for the falcons for years.
“Peregrine falcons are much larger than the other falcons that we have in this area,” Steininger says. “They are also the fastest animal in the world, being clocked at over 200 m.p.h.”
She says the webcam’s images are clear, but are sometimes too far away. The camera is stationary, and cannot be controlled to follow the chicks if they move into a far corner of the nest box.
Steininger says the webcam shows the falcons’ affectionate nature. The birds bow to each other, keep their newly hatched young warm and continue to care for them.
“It’s great seeing these killer birds of prey and how gentle they are with their kids,” she says.
Steininger says the webcam also allows viewers to witness the courtship that occurs in February. People can subsequently watch the female laying her eggs and the interaction between the chicks and their parents.
She says falcon pairs will mate for life, unless something happens to their partner, in which case they find a new mate.
Biologists go to nest box sites seasonally to attach leg bands to the chicks, which provides a visual identification for biologists to observe where the chicks go, Gonzon says. The falcons can be reached through a panel accessible from the inside of the building.
Most of the time, only the chicks are viewable on the webcam, Stewart says. This is because the parents are away all day collecting food for their families.
“You can start expecting wings,” he says. “There will be a whole lot of flapping, but they’re not going anywhere.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Natural with the absence of the "l" in reference to the website where footage can be viewed.