Richmond Falcon Cam
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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.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
This morning just before 7 am, another of the eggs has hatched.
The normal progression of a hatch can be seen in the series of images below
1.) A pip or initial hole can clearly be seen in this photo. This is the chick’s first effort to break through the shell using its egg tooth (a small knob on the end of their bill that will fall off shortly after hatching). The chick has broken through the air space at the end of the egg and in now breathing outside air. From here the hard work really starts. This is a long and demanding process for the tiny chick and may take up to 72 hours to complete.
2.) The chick will now rotate inside the egg scratching and scoring the inside of the shell as it goes. A muscle in the chick’s neck (the complexus muscle - also known as the hatching muscle) becomes enlarged just prior to hatching. Using this muscle the chick will push against the shell to try to break the two halves of the eggshell apart. Here you can clearly see the line the chick has made around the circumference of the egg.
3.) Once the eggshell has been weakened enough the chick breaks free! Initially they are still very wet and exhausted from this very demanding ordeal. Prior to hatching the chick will have absorbed any remaining yolk in the egg for energy. Soon the chick will dry out and we’ll see the fluffy white down that covers it.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The chick has dried out and has had a good feeding this evening.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The second egg hatched today (6/11/13)at about 1:41 pm. The photo below captured the young chick just as it tumbled from the egg.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
We have been anticipating the hatch of the second clutch and noted a pip (first hole) in the light colored egg yesterday. It quickly became apparent however that the hatch of this egg was not proceeding normally. Peregrine falcon chicks hatch without any assistance from their parents, using a specialized egg tooth to score the inside of the shell and break free. In this case however, both the adult female and male used their bills to chip away at the opening. Both also seemed to picking at the contents of the egg. We were able to see movement from the chick inside the egg and the adults continued to incubate all four eggs. We also noted a pip in one of the other eggs. This morning revealed that the adults had removed the lighter colored egg from the nest box. We will continue to monitor the hatching progress of the remaining eggs. Eggs can fail for any number of reasons and the hatching process is grueling for the chicks. We do know that development of the embryo was relatively advanced as we could see chick’s bill (with the egg tooth).
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Falcon cam viewers may have noticed that one of the four eggs is much lighter in color than the other three. This isn’t all that unusual as peregrine falcon eggs may be a wide variety of colors from pale creamy to darker reddish brown. The eggs are also typically patterned with darker splotches and spots. All eggs begin with white shells in the female’s reproductive tract. Once the eggs pass into the uterus region they receive their pigmentation, including any patterns
Monday, May 13, 2013
Today we were able to see a fourth egg in the Richmond nest. Given how well the eggs are hidden in the nest box we can’t be sure when it was laid. Based on our estimates of when the previous eggs were laid, we believe that this egg was produced sometime between Saturday and afternoon. This egg will likely fill out the clutch although as this female showed us earlier this season - peregrine falcons are capable of laying five eggs.