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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fear of Flying

Early in August, a confused young peregrine falcon was found in a window well in Madison Park. Luckily, the bird was reported to PAWS, retrieved, and at last report is doing fine. The PAWS wildlife naturalist contacted Ed Deal to find out if he knew about a nest in the area. The goal being to release the young bird near its parents, who will need to provide food and protection.

Note: If you should find a wild creature in distress you can contact PAWS at: 425-412-4040.
There are also specific instructions on the PAWS website at: Found a Wild Animal? 

Ed Deal bands young falcons while they are still in the nest. Historically, peregrines nested in high isolated places like ledges on the face of a cliff. In cities, they often choose similar manmade structures, like sky scrapers and piers that support bridges. Accessing these locations to band the young birds requires fearless dedication and very calm nerves. You can read more about Ed and the banding process in this prior post: The Fastest Birds on Earth.

Ed immediately theorized that the Madison Park peregrine must have come from a previously unknown nest near the western high-rise under the 520 bridge. I have seen peregrines visit Union Bay previously, but to my knowledge, this would be their first nesting site on Union Bay.

Ed's bird banding colleague, Martin Muller, found the site. In addition to banding birds, Martin is a kind and gentle educator who has contributed greatly to my birding knowledge. This young peregrine is apparently a sibling to the Madison Park peregrine. Having not yet learned to fly it was still confined to the top of the concrete bridge support. 

Learning how to safely leave the nest is the first great hurdle in the life of a peregrine falcon. I suspect the scratches on the concrete pier indicate second thoughts on the part of one of the young birds. I imagine the marks were most likely made while one of the young birds flapped its wings and scrambled back to safety.

Martin also located and identified the male parent, a bird they had previously banded. The code 32 above the letter N is barely visible on the bird's left leg. Martin pointed out a critical difference between the adult and the young bird. When perched, the tips of the adult's wings reach to the end of the tail. You can see in the previous photo, that the young bird's wing tips have not yet caught up to the tail's length.

Another difference between the two birds is a bit less obvious, due to the angle of my photos. The young bird has vertical stripes on the chest, while in the next photo you can barely make out some of the horizontal striping on the adult's chest. My photos were taken one week after the Madison Park bird was recovered.

As I kayaked out to take these photos, I could hear the adult calling to the remaining sibling long before I could see the nesting location. I suspect the adult was trying to motivate the young bird to overcome its fear of flying.

At times, the young bird paced back and forth, no doubt feeling confined. Sometimes, it would walk back under the super structure. Possibly it rubbed its head on the concrete causing the white ruffled feathers on its forehead to stand out. The white ruffle is visible in many of the photos.

For a few moments it spread its wings.

Depending on the angle, the width of the wings was fairly impressive.

Once it even leaped up into the air.

Ultimately, it returned to grooming its tail feathers and ignored the pleas of its parent.

The peregrine closed its eyes when there was a chance it might scratch them. The stark white coloring of the eyelids seems rather odd. I do not know of any other bird with this much contrast between their eyelids and the surrounding feathers. I wonder if this creates the impression of watchfulness even when their eyes are closed.

The two light marks on the back of the head may also create a similar impression. It is interesting to realize that this bird who is destined to be a fearless hunter and the fastest creature on earth must first conquer its fear and learn to fly, just like any other young bird.

This week, a second trip to the site revealed no sign of either the parent or the young bird. Ed says no one has seen the birds since the photos above were taken. My fear is, that the young bird's first flight was its last. If it ended up in the water it would have been difficult to return to the air.

On the other hand, the young falcon may be resting easy somewhere along the shores of Union Bay. If so, I suspect it is calling for food and getting regular deliveries from its parent. If you would like to hear the sound of a young peregrine begging for food, Click Here. If you happen to notice the young bird please let us know. Everyone would like to know the second bird survived, plus knowing the location of the parent would be helpful when its sibling is ready to be released.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where peregrines nest in the city!


PS: My email address is: ldhubbell@comcast.net

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