As her babies squawked below, the mother Peregrine Falcon circled high above. Her babies were surrounded by adoring fans, clicking photos of the latest crop of courthouse hatchlings.
|Bob Ford, ODNR acting wildlife management supervisor, holds a baby falcon as it is banded by Jennifer Norris, ODNR biologist. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
On Thursday, two baby falcons were brought down from their towering nest in the Wood County Courthouse to be banded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife officials came prepared for the protective Peregrine mother. They climbed into the clock tower armed with a hard hat, thick gloves and a shield. They knew the falcon would not be happy to loan out her babies.
"She was irritated," said Bob Ford, acting wildlife management supervisor for ODNR.
But ODNR is willing to irritate a few raptors if it helps them preserve the species.
"Peregrine falcons are a state threatened species," said Jennifer Norris, biologist in charge of ODNR's falcon program.
Use of the pesticide DDT led to the falcons being wiped out east of the Mississippi River in the 1970s. The pesticide was then banned, and ODNR started banding baby falcons so the could track the species.
"We have tried to band every nest we have had access to," Norris said. This year, Ohio has 26 nesting pairs of Peregrines. Just 10 will be banded. "It is a success story."
Over the years, the falcons have traded natural rocky ledges for roosts in high structures such as the courthouse clock tower. The pair living in Bowling Green has been here three years, and raised three families in the clock tower.
The setting is perfect, according to Amy Potter, since it provides a high ledge for spotting prey, a plentiful food source of other birds, and no great horned owls - which are their main predator, Potter said.
The falcon nest had five eggs this year, but just two hatched. Measurements of the two white fuzzy babies, with long sharp talons, showed that they are both females. Norris explained that the females have larger legs than the males.
Two bands were put on both babies. One with a long list of numbers, "like the bird's Social Security number," he said. The other with red, indicating from a distance that the falcon is from Ohio.
|Spectators take photos while ODNR officials band baby falcons.
When Norris asked for volunteers to help with the banding, a few young eager hands shot up.
Mason Bell, almost 3, of Perrysburg, was pretty proud of his bravery facing the clawed, screeching bird.
"I did it, Mom," Bell shouted after clamping the band in place.
The crowd gathered in the courthouse atrium for the banding was like an extended family fawning over new babies.
"I love it. That is really something," Potter said. "Another three or four weeks, they'll be testing their wings."
That's when Dave Steiner, director of the county planning commission, will get a good look at the birds since his fifth floor office window faces the clock tower roost.
"It's funny to watch them learn how to fly," he said. The birds often go to the neighboring church roof for beginning flight lessons, then get stuck there. "One of them flew right into my office window last year."
The falcon bandings have proved to be quite an annual tradition at the courthouse - drawing fans of all ages.
"We're bird watchers," said Debbie Helmbold, of Bowling Green. "We don't get to see birds of prey very often. When they fly it's fantastic."
Mike Crawford, Bowling Green, brought his two grandchildren, Aidan, 6, and Ashlyn, 5, to get close-up looks at the baby birds.
"They both like the outdoors and they've never seen anything like this before," he said.
"I like to learn about animals," Aidan said.
Facts about Peregrine falcons
Following are some facts about Peregrine falcons from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:
• Peregrines normally grow to 15 inches in length with a 40-inch wingspan.
• The speed of a peregrine can reach 175 mph or more. The bird's diving speed can hit 200 mph and level flight is approximately 62 mph.
• Females are larger and more powerful than males.
• Although they have a high mortality rate, peregrines have been known to live as long as 15 years.
• Their prey includes ducks, pheasants, and pigeons, but they find a variety of birds in their urban surroundings.
• Prey is caught in flight. Using its great speed, the falcon delivers a powerful blow to its prey with a half-closed foot. It retrieves the dead bird either in mid-air or after it falls to the ground.
• Traditionally, they nested on ledges of high cliffs in remote areas. In cities, they use niches along ledges, such as inset windows or window boxes.
• The nest itself is little more than a shallow scrape, shaped by the birds in soil or accumulated debris.
• The nest holds three or four eggs (slightly smaller than those laid by chickens) that are mottled with a dark, reddish-brown pigment. The eggs hatch in about 33 days.
• Both adults incubate the eggs, and both help care for the nestlings.
Babies grow quickly
• A young falcon in the nest is called a nestling or an eyas (pronounced I-es). They are covered by white down when they hatch, which is replaced by feathers in three to five weeks.
• Nestlings eat an incredible amount of food. They double their weight in only six days and at three weeks will be 10 times birth size.
• Around 40 days, young peregrines begin flying. Adult peregrines encourage flight by "baiting" the young with food, which is no longer fed directly to the young.
• The young falcons leave the area where they hatched by the end of summer to establish a territory of their own.
Falcons making comeback
• In the 1960s, scientists discovered that a pesticide called DDT was interfering in the egg shell formation of meat and fish eating birds. Healthy birds were laying eggs so thin they were crushed by the weight of the incubating adult.
• By 1968, the peregrine population was completely eradicated east of the Mississippi River.
• In 1972, use of DDT was severely restricted in the U.S. and worldwide.
• Peregrine falcons remain a threatened species in Ohio.