Four peregrine falcons hatched in Hastings
A handful of people have taken great interest in one of Hastings’ newest families. A pair of peregrine falcons has taken up residence in a box built just for them on the bluff north of the Mississippi River, and the pair has produced four healthy chicks.
The box was installed on the side of the bluff in 1989, but it’s been about 10 years since any other peregrines have nested there, said Jackie Fallon, coordinator of the Midwest Peregrine Society.
Fallon got involved in early June. A former Carpenter Nature Center intern, who lives near the nesting box, noticed a pair brooding there and contacted CNC Director Jen Vieth. Vieth knew Fallon monitors peregrines across the state and called her in.
Fallon had already stopped in Hastings in early to mid-April to check out the box, she said, but at that time didn’t see any birds. She thought there was nothing here.
On June 18, Fallon was back in Hastings, this time with a small crew. A climber rappelled over the edge of the bluff, gathered four chicks from the box and brought them up to a resident’s deck where they were given a quick health screening and banded before being returned to the nest.
Banding the chicks is important because of the information it can provide, Fallon said.
“We lean an awful lot about so many things for banded wildlife,” she said.
For peregrines specifically, banding helps researchers learn about longevity, migration routes, overall populations, health, breeding sites and more. And in Minnesota, banding helps make sure that the peregrine falcon population is doing well.
By the 1960s, peregrines had been wiped out over much of North America, according to the Midwest Peregrine Society. Minnesota even had a population of zero. Since the 1970s, groups have been working to re-introduce the birds and restore their population here. The box at Hastings is an indicator site – one of the sites that, if occupied, would show researchers that the population had recovered or was at least stable, Vieth explained.
Beyond making sure peregrines themselves are healthy, monitoring the birds can help researchers track other problems, some of which can impact humans.
“Peregrines, like many other top species within the food chain … they’re very good at being an indicator species,” Fallon said.
If peregrines are in trouble, other species most likely are also, she said. That was the case in the 1940s to 1950s, when biologists were able to identify DDT as the peregrine killer. Seeing the issues the chemical caused in the birds helped lead scientists to understand the negative effects of DDT in humans.
So far, Fallon has only seen the female bird at the Hastings site. The bird is about two years old and unbanded, but she doesn’t know anything about the male yet, she said. He comes to the nest to drop off food, but he’s gone within seconds.
Of the four chicks, two were male and two were female. Once they were brought to the top of the bluff, each chick was given a quick health inspection, had a blood sample taken and had ID bands attached to their legs.
What’s especially unique about the Hastings nest is that it’s unusually close to another established peregrine nesting site at 3M just up the river.
“That’s very close to this box, and peregrines usually have a much bigger territory range than one to two miles,” Fallon said.
That most likely means the peregrine population is very, very healthy, she said. The four chicks in Hastings and three at 3M are all healthy, so there must be plenty of food, she added.
Whether or not the peregrines will return to nest in Hastings next year is a question Fallon can’t answer with certainty. Peregrines do generally try to return to their chosen nesting area, but there are many factors involved, including territorial disputes. The female here has unique markings though, Fallon said, so she’ll be able to tell for sure if the same bird comes back next year.
Hastings residents have a chance to watch the birds for themselves, and even see the chicks fledge soon. Fallon said that the birds and the nest can be observed from Lock and Dam 2. Because the nest is on the far side of the river, bird watchers will need binoculars or a scope to get a good look.
For more about peregrine falcons in this area, go to http://midwestperegrine.umn.edu or look for the Midwest Peregrine Society on Facebook.
Fallon said that the Midwest Peregrine Society operates completely as a non-profit, and all the work done is possible because of donations. Donations can be made through the website.