SW and Boomer are doing a very good job during incubation.
As we wait for the eggs to hatch at our study nestsite, it is interesting to think about how human behavior has affected falcon behavior. As you know, cliff dwelling peregrine falcons have moved onto human built skyscrapers in recent history, and humans have helped them to nest successfully by building nestboxes so the eggs won’t roll off the skyscraper ledges. This is SW on the nestbox ledge.
Mr. Harvey Webster, Director of Wildlife Resources at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, built SW and Boomer’s nestbox in 1991, and it has been used successfully by peregrine falcon couples ever since. According to the Canadian Peregrine Foundation: "… Peregrines were renowned for having remarkably stable populations [until the use of DDT caused numbers to decline]. Records are best documented for Great Britain, where the breeding population remained steady around 800 pairs from the time of Queen Elizabeth I to the Second World War nearly 400 years later. Even more amazingly, some particular nest sites were almost continuously occupied throughout this period." Visit http://www.peregrine-foundation.ca/ for a lot more interesting information.
In the last 100 years in North America, peregrine populations have been drastically affected by human behavior. In the late 1800s, a popular hobby was collecting eggs from wild nests, and hundreds of falcon chicks did not hatch as a result. Also, adult peregrines were captured for use in the sport of falconry. Falconry is an ancient sport that has a long history throughout the world. Interestingly, inside SW and Boomer’s skyscraper, there is a room with wallpaper depicting the ancient art of falconry.
As the number of falcons in the U.S. began to decline, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was passed to help protect the birds from these human activities. A more serious threat from humans occurred after 1950 when peregrine falcon populations began to decline rapidly due to the effects of DDT. By the 1970s the species was near extinction. Use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 which paved the way for recovery.
DDT nearly caused the bald eagle, as well as other species, to become extinct. On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon and his famous first words were, "the Eagle has landed." The Eagle was the name of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, named after America's national symbol the bald eagle - but in 1969 real eagles were disappearing across North America and in danger of extinction.
Like peregrines, the bald eagle has recovered from near extinction thanks to the banning of DDT, and to a captive breeding program and the efforts of scientists and volunteers who worked for decades to save the species. Here are eagles nesting near the Kennedy Space Center:
To read more about the recovery of the bald eagle from near extinction and the nests near the Kennedy Space Center, go to: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/news/eagles.html
You can watch a live EagleCam of a nest in Colorado at: http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/eagle.html
As mentioned, Mr. Webster of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History built SW and Boomer’s nestbox back in 1991 and it played a part in the recovery of the endangered species. Over 50 peregrine chicks have been hatched and raised at this nestsite. Mr. Webster was also instrumental in the recovery of the species bald eagle as part of the national captive breeding program. Mr. Webster tells a funny story about the museum’s first attempt at captive breeding of bald eagles:
“When I started at the museum , we had a pair of bald eagles -- George and Martha -- that we displayed in the Perkins Wildlife Center on the museum's campus in University Circle. Eagles were critically endangered in Ohio at the time. Our goal was to be able to provide eggs and eaglets for placement in wild Ohio nests and thus help restore eagles in this region.
Well, all George and Martha ever did was fight, and the fighting got so bad that one day we found Martha standing in a bloody snowbank, George clenched in her talons. So we separated the eagles. A remarkable thing ensued. Martha started to become very tame to Carl Lutzmann, my co-worker at the museum. So tame in fact that Carl went into her cage one day and found she had laid an egg! Though the egg was infertile, we were tremendously excited; after all, at that time she was one of only three egg-laying bald eagles that we knew of in captivity”.
Mr. Webster and his crew at the Museum were hoping George could help Martha have a fertile egg – one that would actually hatch a chick – but shortly after Martha laid that first egg, Mr. Webster tells us:
“We went into [George’s] cage one morning and there was George sitting on an egg! George, it turns out, was a female. How could we mistake Georgette for a male, you might ask? Well, when we got the eagles from the federal government, they told us they were male and female, and you always believe what your government tells you. Besides, the only external differentiation between a male and female eagle is size, with the female the bigger bird. Eagle size can be variable depending on where the eagles come from. We had egg on our faces for that mixup!”
They kept trying and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History went on to successfully breed eagles in captivity which helped the species recover from near extinction. Here is Mr. Webster on SW and Boomer’s skyscraper ledge fixing the FalconCam that is sponsored by the Museum.
Kids might be interested to know that Mr. Webster began his work as a volunteer at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History when he was 11 years old. He has done many things to help wildlife ever since, including helping to save Endangered Species.
Eagles and peregrine falcons are raptors and you might be interrested in comparing the two species. You can find out more information about raptors at:
To watch the falcons live go to: http://www.falconcam-cmnh.org/news.php Our thanks to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for sponsoring the FalconCams and for the still of the scary view from the nest.
Mr. Webster’s story about eagles comes from an interview with him by Sarah Crump of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
For more about falcons, go to: http://raptorsinthecity.org/
Photos from the Apollo 11 Mission are courtesy of NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/
Photos of SW and Boomer and of Mr. Webster are courtesy of Scott Wright, volunteer peregrine nest monitor. They may be used in any non-commercial publication, electronic or print, but please give photo credit.