Some of you watching the Cathedral of Learning falconcam have worried that a chick is missing (sometimes) or that one will fall off the nest. Here’s why neither of those things have happened and what you can expect in the future.
Peregrine falcon nestlings will not step off the edge until they are fully feathered and ready to learn to fly. This inherited safeguard is hard-wired because all of today’s peregrines are descended from birds who would not step off the edge.
At 28 days peregrine nestlings move around the nest area but they’re speckled and hard to find. If you don’t see them, they probably didn’t fall.
At 35+ days they’re fully feathered and ready for wing practice. At this point they have to move to nearby ledges (off camera) or they’ll never learn to fly.
Stepping out can be dangerous at bridge sites. Bridges have water below, no lower ledges, and the wind blows hard. If a fledgling lands in the water he can swim but not forever. If he lands on the ground he may be killed by predators or vehicles. Bridges have higher fledgling mortality than good cliffs.
None of these hazards apply to the Cathedral of Learning. There is no water, there are many ledges for landing below the nest, and it’s impossible for a young bird to fall directly from the nest to the street.
The nest box stands on a floor surrounded by walls. A chick that jumps or bumps to the floor cannot get to the street. The front wall is so tall that the parents use it to perch above the nest (above the camera). You see them arrive and depart from that direction. Here’s an overhead diagram of the site.
The box itself is elevated with room to explore underneath it. If a chick reaches the floor, his mother teaches him to come back to the surface by waiting for him to climb up on his own. This is an important learning experience for the chick. The explorer always resurfaces.
Our most famous under-nest explorer was Green Boy in 2010. One of five in an active crowded nest, his brother bumped him off the front perch. Green Boy spent many hours exploring the gully and then came topside in this video footage.
Read all about his adventure and see additional footage here.
So, no worries about the gully.
The only First Flight hazard for a young peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning is this: Curious People.
Curious people think “It won’t hurt if I sneak up close indoors to take a look/picture.” But it will.
Before a peregrine learns to fly it walks off the nest to nearby ledges and practices flapping its wings (off camera). Adult peregrines teach their kids that humans are dangerous. If a youngster sees a human near him while he’s ledge walking, he may try to fly away before he is able and crash below.
So, curb your curiosity. Stay away from peregrine nests while youngsters are learning.
You don’t want to be the one who scared the chick and ended his life in a crash!
(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh. Diagrams by Kate St. John)
p.s. You cannot see the nest from inside the building nor can you see it from the street. To see the Pitt peregrines, come down to Schenley Plaza.