Friday, May 18, 2012

State's falcon-rearing project a success in Eastlake

Good parents both, Starbright and Jerry dive-bombed the intruders who were out to (temporally) kidnap their five offspring.

Few can blame the pair as the 3 1/2 week-old peregrine falcon chicks called out to their parents while Starbright and Jerry did more than just opine about the capture of their young.

The birds made a continuous run of sorties, striking the hard hats of Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Jennifer Norris and wildlife technician Laura Graber.

Considering that peregrine falcons are the world’s fastest animals and can achieve power-dive speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, a strike from a bird’s particularly nasty talons on a plastic hard hat can send shudders through a researcher’s noggin.

“It’s an occupational hazard for us and the birds,” Norris said with a chuckle. “Yeah, we got hit on the head a few times.”

The two Wildlife Division wildlife management officials were joined by Jason Keller, the agency’s state wildlife officer assigned to Lake County.

It was the trio’s intent to remove the chicks from their fabricated nesting box that is anchored some 300 feet above the ground. This perch is attached to the wide concrete “smoke stack” at FirstEnergy’s Eastlake coal-fired power plant.

Since 2005 when the artificial nesting structure was first installed, a pair of falcons has set up homesteading. It is assumed that the pair always was - and still is - the female Starbright and her consort, Jerry.

To date the nesting box-using falcon pair has raised 34 chicks, including this year’s brood of three females and two males.

When the cardboard box (interestingly enough, inscribed with the words “Xmas decorations”) containing the five chicks was brought down a group of admiring spectators gawked.

“A box of falcon chicks; too cute,” said an admiring Ann Bugeda, Lake Metroparks’ chief of interpretive services, who came to watch the process.

When the “oohs” and “ahs” were sufficiently exhausted the three Wildlife Division officials went to work. They attached numbered aluminum bands to the chicks’ legs and determined the birds’ sex.

Norris explained also that no longer included in the leg-banding operation is the drawing of blood for DNA analysis. That is because past studies have indicated good health and a good genetic diversity, Norris said.

Further, Norris, said, the Wildlife Division’s falcon-rearing project was itself first hatched in 1988. That is when a falcon pair began occupying a nesting box in Toledo.

From 1989 to 1993 some 46 falcon chicks were hatched in Ohio, a remarkable feat considering that their parents utilize artificial structures attached to buildings. In the wild, peregrine falcons make their homes on ledges found on towering cliffs, Norris said.

“The population of falcons in Ohio has grown to 36 nesting pairs,” Norris said.

Along with Ohio’s falcon-rearing project and that found in other states the nation’s peregrine falcon stocks continue to grow. For this reason the species was removed from the federal government’s endangered species list.

Contributing as well to the falcons’ rebound was the banning of the pesticide DDT. This toxic chemical was good for eradicating bugs but was bad for birds as it climbed the food chain and damaged the species’ ability to produce viable eggs for hatching.

And while still considered as being threatened in Ohio the species’ status is reviewed in the state every five years with such an undertaking to occur this year, Norris said.

As for this year’s class of five chicks the birds have been assigned the names of “Avenger” (after the current hit motion picture), “Skype” and “Twitter” (in keeping with the growth of social media), “Stacks” (for the power plant’s exhaust towers), and Megavar” (an electrical measurement term).

These names will be compared against the those of hundreds of other falcons in order to avoid duplication, said FirstEnergy spokeswoman, Jennifer Young.

Once the chicks were returned to their nesting box life again returned to normal both for them and also for their dotting parents.

Over the next few months these chicks will be taught how to hunt for food, Norris said, with an abundance of pigeons, gulls and other small birds making up a substantial banquet table.

“When the chicks are finally kicked out by their parents and on their own they’ll disperse to other locations,” Norris said. “We know of birds that were raised here in Ohio have been found nesting as far away as Texas.”
hio’s falcon program is funded through the Wildlife Division’s non-game and endangered species fund, which is fueled in large measure to donations made through the state income tax check-off program and the sales of specially designated license plates.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

1 comment:

  1. This weekend was the annual Mother's Day camping trip with my Mom. We kept pretty local, heading up the 15 to Lytle Creek at the base of the Cajon Pass.