Falcon live-cam project winding down

Things are now winding down at the TELUS tower with the peregrine falcon family.

Things are now winding down at the TELUS tower with the peregrine falcon family.

This was the Red Deer River Naturalists’ maiden voyage into the world of webcams, and I think we did fairly well.

We learn a lot about what else we need up there for next year. The biggest thing was that we didn’t have a camera outside the nest box.

Right now we have shut down the camera inside the box because the peregrines are spending very little time inside.

We tried to set up a remote camera showing the top of the tower but just couldn’t get that to work. Too many technical glitches, so that one has been shut down, too.

It was a real roller-coaster ride, watching this family this year. Let me run down the history.

At the end of March, the nest box with camera was installed. Very shortly after, the peregrines returned from down south and a lot of the action was not caught on camera.

Two females fought over the nest site. The female, Geogeanne, who had nested at the tower in 2009, was the loser of the battle, being driven to the ground near Bower Ponds, where my husband, Larry, with the help of bystanders, caught her and took her to Medicine River Wildlife Centre.

This gave the winner, Perry, free access to the tower nest box. She took up residence with Windsong, her mate for this year, and proceeded to lay five eggs between May 1 and May 10.

Peregrines don’t start incubating their eggs until two or three have been laid and the weather was snowy and blowing while the egg laying was happening so it was hard to tell exactly when she started incubating.

It seemed like often, she was just on them to protect the eggs from the weather, but then on May 30 two of the eggs went missing. It was first noticed about 3:30 p.m. and the chat room was ablaze with speculation about what happened to them. Was it a raven? Was it a magpie? Was it human? Was it Perry or Windsong, themselves? I’m sorry but I just don’t know. And no one can say with any certainty because no one saw anything.

But life went on and two of the eggs hatched on June 12 with the third one hatching on June 13.

On June 17, the Advocate had a contest for naming the chicks. Scout was the first born, Telli was the second and Nadira (Arabic for “small precious one”) was the smallest one. After the hatching, the activity really started happening in that nest box. At the beginning, the little “Q-tips” (as one of the regular viewers of the webcam called the chicks) spent a lot of time under the breast of their mother, with Windsong bringing food in on a regular basis. Then they got a bit bigger and were left alone in the box a lot of the time. This was the time where I felt we especially needed the camera outside the box.

We knew the parent or parents were just outside the box because we could hear them but couldn’t see what they were doing. I have been told by someone in the area who was constantly watching the box with his telescope that when the parents came into the ledge in front of the box, feathers would fly because they often would pluck the prey outside before taking the meat inside.

The chicks grew quickly. All too soon, they were looking more and more like their parents. They became darker and got the distinctive tear drop on their faces. And then on July 20, they left the nest.

Three days later, we got the first call about Nadira. I was out with Larry picking up an orphaned duckling when Carol from Medicine River Wildlife Centre called to say that one of the falcons was in trouble under the tower. We arrived to find about 15 people lined up watching Nadira who was just standing on the ground.

I grabbed him up with a net, did a quick check and everything seemed to be working fine. This sort of thing happens with all sorts of birds, not just peregrines. The babies leave the nest before they are able to fly and they hang around on the ground. The parents care for them there.

So I put Nadira inside the fence under the tower, figuring he would be safer there than out on the streets. We got a few calls over the next few days that he was still on the ground. I went out a couple of times to check on him and didn’t even find him.

Then on July 28, we got a call that someone was hearing scrabbling in their chimney. We went out thinking they probably had bats up there. It turned out to be Nadira, stuck in there.

This time after he was rescued he went out to Medicine River. He was in pretty good shape, all things considered.

He was dehydrated and had lost two tail feathers.

On August 9, Gord Court from Alberta Fish and Wildlife picked him up. It was decided that the best thing for this bird was to put him in a more remote location where there were less hazards.

He was put in with a family that only had one baby. This chick is smaller than Nadira so this makes Nadira the biggest of the family instead of the runt. This gives him a much better chance at success.

A lot of the dedicated followers from the webcam were quite distraught that he was being fostered out instead of going back to his original family, but there is a 100 per cent success rate in birds of prey being accepted into new families.

We may not be able to watch Nadira get more proficient at flying but that is probably what is happening right now!

The chat room associated with the webcam will remain open so that people can still keep in touch. And the Red Deer River Naturalists is already working on plans for the webcam for next year.

Judy Boyd is a naturalist with the Red Deer River Naturalists.