Two new peregrine falcons and one egg at nesting site atop UMass library



Last modified: Thursday, April 09, 2015

AMHERST — For the first time in a dozen years, a new pair of young peregrine falcons has nested on the top of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The nesting site lost the pair that had been there for more than a decade when the male died in January and the female never returned. That pair produced 34 chicks.

The library mounts a camera 12 feet out from the nesting site nearly 30 stories above the ground so that bird lovers can watch the birds as they raise their young during mating season. On Monday the camera showed two new falcons and one egg at the site.

“It’s very, very dear to the whole campus,” said Richard Nathhorst, facilities coordinator at UMass, who mounts the camera every year. “It raises everyone’s spirits when the birds arrive.”

Members of the campus community always watch as the eggs hatch and then as the young birds learn to fly and hunt, and eventually leave the nest, Nathhorst said.

The same two adult birds, identified by bands placed on them by state wildlife experts, had returned year after year to raise new young. Bands are fitted on most peregrine falcons in the state because they are a threatened species. Fewer than 30 nesting pairs are known throughout the state.

It was a blow when the adult male bird that had been nesting there for more than a decade was found injured in January and eventually died. Nathhorst tried to nurse the bird back to health, but the 14-year-old bird died that month.

Most peregrine falcons live to be about 10 years old, according to Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

French believes that the female, who was one year younger than the male, also died, or else she would still be up on the nest site, he said.

Instead, two new birds without identifying bands are using the nest. French believes they are between 2 and 3 years old, but cannot be sure without the bands.

Peregrine falcons used to be on the state endangered species list and all new birds were fitted with bands identifying them. But they were recently downgraded to a threatened species, and the bands are not placed on all birds anymore, according to French.

That means that neither bird hatched at the UMass library site, because all chicks there were fitted with identifying bands.

Nathhorst, a 1979 UMass graduate, said that is a good sign. It means that there are more and more birds in the wild and that the species is repopulating.

French said it would have been nice if they were banded so that his office could know more about the birds. Instead, French will attempt to band the female, which he believes will stick by a nest with young if an intruder comes near. Male birds rarely show that level of bravery, he said.

The last female on the site was “hell on wheels,” according to French. When he would try to place bands on the young in the nest in previous years, that female would grab his arm each time.

Peregrine falcons are never found in great numbers. In the metropolitan Boston area, there are eight pairs, and that is about as densely populated as they get, according to French.

When there are many of them, the birds eventually fight one another for prime spots, including the top of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library, French said.

Nathhorst said placing the camera to view the birds is a four-person job. The cantilevered structure, complete with tension cables, is an arm that holds the camera so it gets a “falcon-eye view” of the nest, Nathhorst said.

Unfortunately, the arm has been struck by lightning multiple times. This has no effect on the structure or the nest, but it tends to fry the camera, he said.

Peregrine falcons nest on cliff-like structures, and never bring any extra materials to the nest. They simply use what is there, laying eggs in dirt on the cliff-top, or the top of the building, according to French.

Known as wanderers, peregrine falcons are found throughout the world.

If the state is able to double its population, the bird could be taken off the threatened species list as well, French said.

The egg sitting near the top of the UMass library may well contribute to that.

To view the birds, visit http://webdevvirt.ddns.umass.edu/falcons.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 

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