There are occasions in life where one is in the right place at the right time, and this past February perched on a window ledge 41 stories above the good earth I found myself to be in just one of those right places.
High atop a downtown Columbus skyscraper, I joined state wildlife biologist Donna Daniel as she installed a web camera allowing a birds-eye view of nesting peregrine falcons to visitors of the Internet site ohiodnr.com
Ledges such as this one, perched at the top of the Rhodes State Office Tower, provide perfect nesting sites for these swift-moving birds of prey, which naturally nest along high cliff walls.
As the worlds fastest bird, peregrine falcons can cruise at about 60 mph in level flight. But its their diving speed that is most impressive more than 200 mph! And, to my delight that day, I had the opportunity to watch two of these magnificent birds of prey soar right before my very eyes.
Adult peregrines are about the size of a crow, with a wingspan of 36 to 44 inches. Head and face feathers are dark, while notably white chin feathers extend onto the chest where they become marked with brown vertical streaking. Across the peregrines back, the plumage is a striking blue-gray or slate color.
Ohios man-made structures, however, have not always been home to peregrines. In the mid-1900s, their numbers dwindled nationwide with the widespread use of agricultural pesticides. By 1965, nests were failing throughout the Midwest, and peregrine falcons all but disappeared from skies east of the Mississippi River.
Then in 1989, wildlife experts with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) began reintroducing peregrine falcons into the Buckeye State. For more than a decade now, peregrines have successfully nested in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Ironton and Toledo.
Although Ohio does not offer the natural cliff habitat peregrines prefer for nesting, said Dave Scott, Falcon Project Coordinator for the ODNR, they have adapted to artificial cliffs, making their nests among our skyscrapers, under tall bridges and on smokestacks.
Fortunately for us, most of these sites are located in urban settings or in other developed areas, providing Ohioans a window into the world of these amazing birds. Web cameras offer a rare opportunity for school children and adults alike to learn about falcon ecology and observe a species thats at the top of its food chain, said Scott.
The start of each nesting season creates an almost soap opera-like following among peregrine falcon fans. As with reality TV, the high drama of peregrine courtship rituals and territorial battles become topics of conversation in classrooms and around office water coolers.
Falcon cam viewers will not see traditional stick and twig nests. Instead, mottled, reddish-brown eggs are laid in scrapes, shallow depressions that are created when the birds push aside loose soil, sand, or gravel. Nests typically contain three or four eggs, each smaller than a chicken egg, which are incubated by both parents.
When I spoke to Scott in early April, Ohios peregrine falcon nesting season was well underway with 15 nest sites identified across the state. At that point, seven of those locations had falcons already incubating eggs. By the time you read this, eggs in those nests and others may have already successfully hatched a new generation of Ohio peregrine falcons.
Among those early April nesters were Clevelands Terminal Tower pair, Buckeye and his unnamed mate, who had a clutch of four eggs. For an up close look at this nest, visit www.falconcam.apk.net Another Cleveland pair was nesting on the Cleveland Clinic building and had four eggs. Other nests around the state included a site near Cincinnati where, atop an Ohio River power plant, a pair was incubating five eggs! In Ironton, under a bridge spanning the Ohio River, falcons were sitting on four eggs, while Daytons duo on top of the AT&T Building had produced four eggs. Daytons resident male, Mercury, and his mate Snowball can be observed at www.boonshoftmuseum.org/falconCam.php3
In the second week of April, wildlife experts learned of four eggs being incubated at a new site in downtown Akron, near where the same pair nested last year. And, yet a third Cleveland area pair was incubating at least two eggs near the rooftop of the Bohn Building.
As I stepped out onto the broad ledge that sunny February day, Donna cautioned me that Bandit, Columbus resident male falcon since 1993, might do a fly-by. That would be his way, she said, of saying we were invading his territory. Peregrine falcons have razor-sharp talons and I was reminded to stay alert. If he came in close, I should raise my arm in front of my face, which would most likely cause Bandit to shy away.
Sure enough, after he and an unidentified female falcon made a few distant passes, Bandit came in for the warning. His swift approach was breathtaking and as I raised my jacketed arm, Bandit turned his body toward me with talons extended. Then suddenly, while not five feet away and with a beat of his strong wings, he swerved back against the brilliantly blue sky. It was a thrilling and unforgettable moment.
For the most recent updates about Ohios peregrine falcons, visit ohiodnr.com