Richmond Falcon Cam
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Over the past two days we have consistently observed three eggs during incubation exchanges between the male and the female. As the time interval between egg-laying generally does not exceed 72 hrs, it appears that this year’s clutch was completed when the third egg was laid on March 28 or 29. This is not the first time that this pair lays a 3-egg clutch. They did the same in 2005, at a time when they had not yet begun nesting at the current site.
The eggs are being actively incubated full-time, and are expected to hatch between 33 and 35 days from the onset of incubation. We are looking forward to the first egg hatching in late April/early May.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Three eggs were briefly visible in the nest box in the late afternoon of March 29 as the male rearranged the eggs prior to settling over them to incubate. The eggs were subsequently visible again during an incubation exchange with the female.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
During the egg phase of the nesting cycle, males typically spend substantially less time incubating than do females. So, although the female of the pair will be grabbing most of the camera time during the current stage of the nesting cycle, the male will also make appearances at the nest box. It may be useful to those following the pair, then, to know just what bird they are viewing at any given time. Here is a primer to help distinguish between the male and the female of the pair:
Bands: in the case of this particular pair, the male is banded (silver band on the right leg, black over red band on the left) while the female is not. When a bird is standing or perched with its legs exposed, this quick check can be used to confirm the identity of the bird.
Size: as is the case with other raptors, female peregrines are larger than males, averaging 15% greater size. Although this size difference is obvious when both birds are seen together (as during an incubation exchange at the nest box), it is not as reliable when only one bird is on camera.
Plumage: male peregrine falcons generally have a whiter, brighter breast than females, whereas females tend to show more buffy coloration on their underparts. This is indeed the case with this particular pair, with the female showing extensive buff on the lower breast and belly and the male showing no traces of buff in its plumage. This male also has very striking, well-pronounced and quite obvious dark barring extending from the breast onto the belly. In contrast, horizontal barring on this female is less-pronounced, being much more scattered and spotty in the belly area.
These differences in plumage may not always be detectable when the birds are in incubating posture and their underparts are not fully visible. However, like many female peregrines, the Richmond female has a brown tinge to portions of her dorsal parts, whereas the male has much more of a bluish appearance. These differences may be subtle depending on posture and lighting conditions, but can provide yet another clue to the identity of the bird on camera.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
A second egg has been confirmed for the falcon pair. The egg was first noted on the early afternoon of March 27. Up until this point only one egg had been visible, so that it is likely that this is a new egg, rather than an egg laid several days ago as speculated in the previous post. This new egg was likely laid sometime on March 26.
Monday, March 24, 2014
We have egg(s)! Although copulation has likely been taking place off-camera for a few weeks now, the pair has been documented copulating on multiple occasions since March 19 (last Wednesday), and, sometime on the afternoon of March 23, the female laid what appeared to be the first egg of her clutch. However, a glimpse of two brown objects beneath the male that same evening (see image below), raises the possibility that the female had previously already laid an egg on March 21. On this day she had been observed at the nest box for extended periods of time, looking lethargic, which is typical of falcons carrying an egg. Only one egg is clearly visible in the second image, again of the male, taken today.
The female should continue laying eggs at 2 to 3 day intervals until the clutch is complete. Although they had a five egg clutch for the first time last year, this pair has consistently laid four eggs per season. Incubation typically begins in earnest once the third egg of the clutch is laid, but incomplete clutches will be covered during rainy weather and during cold periods such as what we are currently experiencing.
As for the number of eggs currently in the box … the physical structure of the nest box makes it challenging to see the eggs, which are often hidden by the strip of wood at the box entrance. We will be able to get a definitive count as the number of eggs in the box grows; in the meantime, we may need to continue relying on fleeting glimpses.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Richmond Falcon Cam blog, and what we hope will be a good year for the Richmond peregrine falcon pair, despite a rocky start with both equipment and weather. The Richmond Falcon Cam was recently replaced after it was determined that it had been malfunctioning. The new camera captures much crisper and clearer images and we are happy to bring these to you starting today; we appreciate your patience up to this point in dealing with often out-of-focus images from the old camera. Richmond has been beset by an unusual number of poor weather events so far this year, which may have contributed to the problems with the old camera. There have been snow drifts in and around the nest box on two or three occasions, and several unusually cold spells. And this brings us to the falcons. The female of the pair made her presence known to us through a casual fly-by as we were installing the camera on March 10. Since then, the pair has been seen together perched on neighboring buildings, and both birds have made individual visits to the nest box and its environs. The male was seen working on a scrape in the nest box gravel on March 16 – the scrape is essentially a depression in the substrate within which the eggs will be laid and incubated. Although it is the female that will ultimately select the nesting location, she has been regularly visiting the nest box since March 17 and was seen working on the scrape on a couple of occasions, all of which is very promising. Falcons may nest at alternate sites within a territory, and this pair has attempted to nest on different downtown buildings in past years; however, the nest box on camera has been their most often used, primary nesting site.
Has the poor weather resulted in a late start to the falcons’ nesting season? Snow accumulation within the nest box is certainly not conducive to nesting. But we cannot be sure whether the timing of the breeding to come would be different had the weather been milder. This particular falcon pair has been variable in the start of its egg-laying cycle: the date of the first egg has ranged from March 10 to March 24 in past years. At this point in time, the birds are still well within this 2-week range. As the Richmond falcons have encountered challenges during their nesting cycle in recent years, we are hopeful that this will turn out to be a good breeding year for the pair.
Friday, August 9, 2013
The body of the falcon chick retrieved from the ledge of the Riverfront Plaza building was submitted for necropsy to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Results revealed that the chick was afflicted with meningitis of a bacterial origin, with E. coli and Enterococcus sp. found in the brain, gastrointestinal tract and liver. The brain tested negative for West Nile virus. The cause of death was ruled to be bacterial sepsis (presence of bacteria in the bloodstream, which is normally a sterile environment) and meningoencephalitis (infection/inflammation of the brain and of the membranes enveloping the central nervous system).
Bacteria could have been introduced into the blood stream from a variety of pathways, including via a penetrating wound (not noted during necropsy), ingestion of contaminated prey items, or bacteria from the chick’s gut entering the bloodstream due to a sustained elevated core body temperature (the days leading up to the death of the chick were extremely hot with high heat indices).
We would not normally expect high ambient temperatures or ingestion of contaminated prey to ultimately cause the death of the chick. However, underlying genetic, stress-related, or traumatic conditions may have rendered the chick more susceptible to the effects of hot weather and/or suppressed its immune system, thereby allowing the bacterial infection to take hold. In any case it is likely that a combination of factors were ultimately the cause of this chick’s demise.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
It is with regret that we report that the falcon nest at Riverfront Plaza has failed. When we checked the Falcon Cam this morning, Wed June 26, we noted that the nest box appeared empty. We suspected that the chicks had died and were removed by the parents, since at this early age the chicks are not yet mobile enough to leave the box on their own. We accessed the ledge later in the morning and confirmed that the box was indeed empty. As expected, both parents reacted aggressively towards us. We searched the ledge and found the body of the smaller of the two chicks in its western section, near the remains of various avian prey items. We conducted a search of the perimeter of the building at street level, as well as of the roof of the parking deck across the street, but were unable to locate the body of the second nestling. The high temperatures and heat index yesterday may be implicated in the death of the chicks, perhaps in conjunction with other factors. We will arrange to have a necropsy performed on the chick to see whether a more definitive cause of death can be identified.
In monitoring the Falcon Cam yesterday afternoon we noted that the smaller of the two chicks was missing the majority of the feathers from the top of its head. Sibling aggression on the part of the older, larger chick is one possible cause. This can sometimes occur among raptors in situations where there is a substantial disparity in the body size of the chicks, especially if there is competition for food resources. Unfortunately we do not have information on the frequency with which the parents fed the chicks over the past few days, and whether both chicks were being fed consistently. Yesterday afternoon the adult female spent considerable time shading the smaller chick. The chick appeared somewhat weak and wobbly, falling over several times as it attempted to stand.
This has not turned out to be a good year for this peregrine falcon pair - we hope for a better outcome next year.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The final egg of this clutch has been removed by the adults. This chick seemed to be having similar difficulties in hatching as the first egg.
In two of the eggs from this clutch we’ve watched as the adult female (and to a lesser degree the male) picked away at the pip hole in the eggs greatly widening it. This is not typical behavior as peregrine falcons do not normally assist with the hatching of their eggs. Chicks that are too weak to hatch out on their own would not likely be strong enough to survive.
We are uncertain why exactly the adults have engaged in this behavior. Although it appears to be “helping” in actuality it likely makes it more difficult for the hatch to proceed. The chick typically rotates itself through the egg while pressing up against the shell with its bill. The large hole might interfere with the chick’s ability to turn and press up against the shell.
It should be noted that in both of the eggs that successfully hatched the adults did not pick away at the egg, but allowed the chicks to complete the cycle on their own. The adults are able hear and feel the chicks moving in the egg. It may be that the adults were aware of some problem with the hatch or embryos and that this is in some way connected to their picking away at the shells.