Watching Duluth’s ‘high society’This summer, you will have the chance to observe the residents of Duluth’s most exclusive penthouse with the help of Peregrine Watch.
By: John Shirley , For the Budgeteer News
This summer, you will have the chance to observe the residents of Duluth’s most exclusive penthouse with the help of Peregrine Watch.
As the name suggests, this organization’s primary mission is to help the public observe peregrine falcons, residing in a nesting box high atop downtown Duluth’s Greysolon Plaza.
Currently, a pair is incubating four known eggs, which are expected to hatch around May 25. Soon, Peregrine Watch will host a daily observation area, as a sort of bird reality show. In mid-June, the summer project, which will be supervised through Hawks Ridge Observatory, plans to operate six days a week; most of the time, the observation area will be run by naturalist Katie Swanson. Hours are expected to be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This will continue until late July, when the fledglings and the parents all go their separate ways.
The project is partly funded by the Minnesota Power Foundation.
Early on, the observation area will be located at Lake Place Park, which commands a good view of the nesting box and much of the birds’ hunting grounds. Later, the viewing area will move closer to the plaza, to get a closer view of the fledglings, now perched around the area, which have learned to think outside of the box.
The viewing area will have two viewing scopes and a monitor linked to a video camera inside the box. While the scopes will be kept trained on the key players in this bird drama, the monitor will show additional scenes. The monitor will be kept up and running until the fledglings have left the box for an outdoor performance.
Peregrine Watch strives to provide both content and context. As a naturalist, Swanson provides “interpretation of what we are seeing, the flight as well as what is going on with the chicks in the nests: i.e., watching them all the way until they fledge.”
This box was placed on the Greysolon Plaza by Bob Anderson of the Raptor Resource Project. Two other boxes for peregrine falcons are located in the Duluth area. As Swanson explained, these boxes worked well to attract this specific bird because the boxes highly resemble the side of a cliff, their typical nesting place. In case you are wondering why more boxes aren’t placed in the Duluth area, peregrines are very territorial and will usually not nest within two miles of another nesting pair.
The male has nested in the box since 2003. During this time he has had three mates. Peregrine Watch calls the banded female Jenna. The male is not named because he is not banded. Normally birds are not named until after they are banded.
Every year, Raptor Resource attempts to band each new crop of chicks. Adult peregrines are banded only if by chance they are captured at a banding station. These bands help to study and keep track of the birds. The band numbers can be read from the right angle, when using a strong-enough scope.
Normally the male hunts while the female incubates the eggs, though they sometimes switch places. Peregrines like to soar over a group of birds and find a slower one to dive down on, with great speed. These fastest birds in the world can fly almost 200 mph in a stoop. Swanson said a kill is rare to see, but amazing when it is seen.
A study of feathers and other discarded bird remains around the plaza building gives a good picture of the birds’ diet. It appears a large part of their diet is black-billed cuckoos and flickers. Though it is rare to see a kill, it is fairly common for viewers to see one of the birds bringing prey back to the nest. Swanson says that one of the most amazing and sites is a “food transfer.” This frequently-occurring event is when the male brings back prey and hands it off to the female in midair, who brings it into the nest.
Swanson’s advice to those interested in viewing the birds is to come early and come often. Normally, a viewer will be able to see one of the birds outside the box. Later in the season, it gets more interesting, as the chicks start to emerge from the box. You can then see four peregrine falcons on top of the Greysolon Plaza building or nearby. Peregrine Watch will attempt to locate all of them every day and show them to the public.