19 May 2021
For many years we have taken for granted that peregrine falcons are always banded but that status changed more than three years ago. Morela and Ecco are both members of the new cohort of peregrines who were not banded as chicks because their species has made such a dramatic recovery.
This year Morela and Ecco’s youngsters join their parents in the ranks of the unbanded. Art McMorris, Peregrine Falcon Coordinator for the PA Game Commission, explains how this came about:
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) did not band peregrine falcons in 2020 because of COVID-19. A combination of formal restrictions and basic prudence made banding untenable. Among other things, banding requires a team working together at close quarters, which is impossible while practicing social distancing. At the same time, the recent upgrading of peregrine falcons in Pennsylvania from Endangered to Threatened made banding less imperative for management of the population.
Because of the high public interest in the peregrines at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, the PGC explored the possibility of banding the Pitt peregrine nestlings this year. However, a combination of logistical problems, including the availability of key personnel and issues related to COVID, made it impossible to proceed.
Although the Pitt peregrines will not be banded this year, viewers can follow the growth of the four Pitt nestlings on the National Aviary’s falconcam. Based on size, the four nestlings, which were 23, 23, 23 and 22 days old yesterday (18 May 2021) are 2 males, 1 female, and one uncertain but possibly also female.— Art McMorris, Peregrine Falcon coordinator for PGC, 17 May 2021
Why are peregrines not banded anymore? The purpose of banding is to identify where a bird came from and where it was found later on. Since peregrines are no longer endangered, we don’t need to track them that much. Peregrine banding is becoming a rare event.
How much have peregrines recovered? In 2019 the PA Game Commission upgraded the status of peregrine falcons from Endangered to Threatened. Last year 64 pairs of peregrine nested in the state, significantly more than the 44 pairs we had before DDT wiped out peregrines east of the Mississippi in 1964.
When will the nest box be cleaned? The nest surface looks dirty with the remains of many feathered dinners. Because this nest is on a building, it is cleaned every year in late fall during the annual maintenance visit to the cameras. In a natural setting on a cliff the nest would never be cleaned.
It is normal for nestling peregrines — and bald eagles — to grow up near the remains of prey. As they get older they discover they can snack on the leftovers. Morela and Ecco were not banded so I’m sure their nests were never cleaned when they were babies.
Did you notice that the camera zoomed out? The streaming camera zoomed out yesterday so you can see more of the hidden nest areas. Nestbox “cleaning” during a banding visit is often done to find out what the young birds have been eating. Before the camera zoomed out I could tell you they ate pigeons, robins, starlings, cardinals and wood thrushes.
(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, map courtesy of PGC)