Friday, April 22, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Around this time last year I wrote a post about falcons in Kalamazoo, inspired by a rare sighting of merlins that appeared to be nesting on the west side of town . At the end of that post I mentioned the periodic sightings of peregrine falcons in downtown Kalamazoo and how it would be great if they decided to make our little downtown their home. Well, sometimes in life our wishes are fulfilled.
Hi atop the 5/3rds Bank Building, just inside a rain trough on the 15th floor, rest three peach colored eggs with little reddish-brown specks. Sitting on top is a female falcon, expanding her breast feathers to envelop and protect her precious clutch from the cold spells of a capricious April, or pilfering crows. Periodically, the male, or tiercel, swoops up to the ledge with a dead bird offering and is met with a cry from his hungry mate. Their falcon chatter rings out like the familiar cry of a coopers hawk and is quickly becoming the tell tale sound of our resident pair of nesting peregrines.
For the past two years, people in town have observed peregrines perched on buildings, lamp posts, towers, and soaring the open sky, but never before have we had them nesting. It's well known that peregrines have been nesting in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and other larger, urban centers, but it remained in doubt--at least for me--whether peregrines would deem Kalamazoo suitable habitat. I've always perceived Kalamazoo as a baby city, with only one, maybe two buildings barely qualifying as sky-scrapers. I always wondered whether we were "big" enough for the largest of falcons.
It appears as though we are.
The old, American National Bank, with it's 1929 art deco designs carved into the limestone facade, serves as an urban cliff, looking out over the city and the vast territory of the Kalamazoo River valley, rife with falcon prey: the ubiquitous rock pigeon, the mourning dove, starlings, and countless other birds, including an occasional water fowl (one construction worker noted a duck head on one of the ledges of the building).
Peregrines have adapted beautifully to the rise of a new and almost entirely manufactured landscape: the city-scape. All across the country, and even the world, peregrines are nesting on buildings in our cities, as well as on bridges, smoke-stacks, power plants, radio towers, and any other man made structure that affords that aerial perch to survey the skies for food.
But, let's not count our falcons before they hatch. Our birds chose a questionable spot for nesting: a copper-lined rain trough with nothing to cradle the eggs and fully exposed to rain water, making a successful hatching pretty dubious. Karen Cleveland, all-bird biologist at the Michigan DNR, says it's not unusual for a rookie pair to try nesting in these less than perfect places. A rain trough will of course have water moving, and even coursing through during a torrential downpour, and that's not good for incubation. It can sometimes take successive, annual failings for a couple to attempt a new, successful location. Eventually they get it, and with a bird that can live up to 15 years in the wild, they have some time before they can make a contribution to the overall population of peregrines.
If the birds fail this first attempt, the Bank will hopefully put in (at the request of the DNR), a layer of pea-stone, or install a simple nest-box for either a second round of breeding this year or a completely fresh start next year. A little assistance from the human kind can go a long way, and if you're familiar with the plight of the peregrine over the last 50 years, you know humans have been instrumental in restoring the endangered peregrine population. Which is only appropriate considering it was human-made pesticides that decimated peregrine populations during the middle of the last century. I'll talk about this in a later post.
So, let's root for our resident pair and their first, vulnerable clutch. One way or another, I think they're here to stay. And soon enough, we should have a positive ID on each parent's bands. That way we'll be able to identify each bird and know exactly where they were born! In fact, there's an entire website dedicated to tracking and following the lineage of peregrines in the Midwest. You can find it at the Midwest Peregrine Society.
Although we're by no means the first city to be graced by peregrines, this is our first pair, and for that reason they're special. The fastest animal on the planet now resides on East Michigan Avenue. I'd say that's pretty cool.
I'll be posting more photos and writing about our new celebrity couple. So stay tuned, and either look up for the falcons, or look down on the ground around 5/3rds Bank - you just might see the leftovers from a falcon lunch.