Saturday, May 2, 2009

Travelers at Travelers

The other day I wrote about the many raptors (birds of prey) that live and travel in and around my neighborhood (read that essay HERE), I enjoy watching these interesting birds as they hunt, feed, defend territories, build their nests, and raise their young. All birds are beautiful in my eyes, but I particularly love the raptors for their elegance of morphology and behavior.

Of all the raptors, my very favorite is the Peregrine Falcon, a large, swift, beautiful bird. (In fact, my research business, Peregrine Information Consultants, is named for this falcon.)

Peregrine Falcons were once on the edge of extinction but have recovered remarkably. The widespread use of certain pesticides (particularly the organochloride DDT) after 1945 affected many animals, of course, but those near the top of the food chain suffered most, because they consumed so many poisoned animals. The accumulated poisons affected the reproductive systems of Peregrine Falcons and other raptors, causing them to lay eggs with very weak shells or no shells at all.

North America had once boasted a healthy and stable population of about 7000 Peregrine Falcons. By 1963, not a single peregrine nest could be found in the Eastern United States, where as recently as mid-century more than 300 nests had been documented. It was estimated that there were not more than a few hundred of these birds left in this country. Similar declines were seen around the world.

DDT was banned in this country in the early 1970s. Around the same time, researchers began captive breeding programs, which over the years were able to produce thousands of healthy birds for release into the wild. Most of the Peregrine Falcons now living in Eastern North America were released from breeding programs or are descended from captive-bred birds.

Peregrine Falcons, which nest on cliffs and prey almost entirely on flying birds, have adapted readily to city life, where they find cliff-like skyscrapers and large supplies of pigeons, starlings, and sparrows. (Peregrine Falcons are an efficient, free, entirely natural means of controlling these non-native birds.) In many cases, generous businesses and individuals have supplied webcams so that the public can watch, enjoy, and learn more about these magnificent birds.

Right here in Hartford, Peregrine Falcons have nested at the Travelers Tower on and off since about 1997. The Travelers insurance company, which has its offices in that building, kindly hosts a website and cameras at There’s a neat elegance in the fact that the Peregrine (which means wanderer or traveler) nests at the Travelers Tower. Very fitting.

The Travelers falcons use the nest box that has been placed on a ledge for their use. This is typical for a falcon nest, or scrape, which consists of a scraped-out depression in a gravelly area on a cliffside. The hen falcon laid four eggs in late March:

The first two chicks hatched within the past day or so; this photo from today, May 1, shows one of the adult birds tending the two chicks and the remaining eggs:

The eggs, which were laid over a period of several days, will hatch in the order in which they were laid.

You can easily find more webcams (many of them live streams) online where you can watch falcons, eagles, bluebirds, cranes, and other birds and wildlife.

You can read a more detailed account of the Peregrine’s decline and recovery at the website of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation.