Release Date: April 12, 2011
BUFFALO, N.Y. Viewers who log onto the University at Buffalo's falconcam to watch BB and Yankee, UB's resident peregrine falcon mom and dad, will see more of the couple's falcon chicks once they hatch and become mobile, thanks to the installation this spring of a second camera. Watch the live streaming video from both cameras at http://ubfalcon.buffalo.edu/
The improved falcon viewing experience comes to falcon fans courtesy of UB's facility and utility operations staff in University Facilities and Enterprise Infrastructure Services staff in UB's Computing and Information Technology who collaborated with Digital Surveillance Solutions, Inc., the local company that donated equipment for UB's falconcam.
The UB nesting box was installed by facilities staff working with local officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Buffalo Audubon Society in 2009 near the top of the Mackay Heating Plant tower on the university's South Campus. The university received permission from the state Office of Historic Preservation to install the box since the tower is a state historic landmark.
The camera's live, streaming video attracted on average approximately 500 simultaneous connections to UB's falcon-cam website last year.
Then, 10 ten days after the baby chicks had hatched, UB's faculty-staff newspaper, the UB Reporter, began receiving anxious email messages from interested falcon watchers who became concerned when neither parents nor chicks were visible. They feared that the chicks had fallen from the nest or that the parents had left the chicks alone for too long.
But this is just as nature intended, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, with which UB partners to ensure a safe habitat for the university's resident falcon pair. The DEC said that at that age, the chicks no longer need the parents to keep them warm and cool so the parents don't need to stay so close; however, the chicks do need more food so the parents spend more time out and about, searching for prey in order to satisfy the chicks' growing appetites.
"Several birders who watched the site last year asked for a different view so they could see what happens once the chicks start to go mobile," says Mike Blumenson, president of Digital Surveillance Solutions. "They also couldn't see BB or Yankee on their perch, so we collaborated with UB's Computing and Information Services and University Facilities to come up with a recommendation for where to put the second camera."
Prior to this year's breeding season, the second camera was installed by University Facilities staff. It provides a view of the perch that extends out from the nesting box, 137 feet above the residential street of Winspear Avenue, which borders the South Campus.
"This is a great thing for falcon watchers," says Chris Hollister, UB associate librarian, arts and sciences, an avid ornithologist and a past contributor to the DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas.
He points out that the falcons are not only a New York State endangered bird but also a federally endangered bird.
"People don't get to see peregrine falcons very often," he says, noting that the second camera will let the viewing continue as the chicks start to walk around and go out on the perch.
"They'll be moving around like any human child would," he says, "most people would never be able to see that. It's really delightful that now they can."
The addition of the second camera is likely to only intensify the already high level of public interest in UB's falcons.
"We knew we were involved with something special when the eggs hatched last year and a local TV station reported 4,000 hits in one day for the UB falconcam," says Blumenson. "While we at DSS enjoy the security work that we do, our involvement in the peregrine project has been one of the most interesting and touching efforts in our seven years of being in business. We are grateful to UB and the DEC for allowing us to be involved and to help share in the magic of BB and Yankee."
The birds do make a powerful impression, notes Gerry Rising, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor emeritus of mathematics education at UB and weekly "Nature Watch" columnist for the Buffalo News.
"Peregrine falcons have this dashing, spectacular flight," says Rising. "It's a joy to see them. There's a sort of freedom about them even when they're just standing. They're a big, handsome bird."
Connie Adams, senior wildlife biologist for the DEC, agrees. "When you see them fly, it makes you want to be a peregrine for a day," she says. "They are king of the sky, they rule the sky and they know it. There is nothing they're afraid of."
Adams notes that that lack of fear is due to the falcon's size and incredible speed, they can fly at speeds up to 200-plus miles an hour.
And like any other species, she continues, the mother falcons are highly protective, especially in mid-June, around the time when the chicks start to fledge, or learn to fly. That's why UB Facilities staff will be erecting a small, wooden shelter under which observers can safely watch the falcons, even when the chicks start learning to fly. The shelter will be installed about 20 feet back from the sidewalk on Winspear Avenue.
As for the chicks that were born to BB in 2009 and 2010, Adams explains that, unlike the parents, who likely have from 8-12 more years of breeding at UB's nesting box, those chicks will not be returning to campus.
Each year, toward late summer, she says, the parents start making flights with the chicks to get them used to flying distances.
"We think they fly with them around New York State, to ease the chicks away from the area," she says, noting that the word peregrine comes from a Latin word that means "to wander." "As a falcon parent, you don't want your chicks around, there's always a risk of in-breeding. You want to disperse your species, to increase reproductive success."
By late fall, the parents come back to their nesting site but the chicks will fly along the Atlantic coast, she says, as far south as Central America.
"Right now, the chicks are probably heading back north but they won't come to UB, they'll go instead to Ohio, Pennsylvania, the north shore of Lake Ontario, the Adirondacks, or even Toronto or New York City," she says.
That contrasts with the parents who are expected to remain at their UB nesting box for many years; they also don't leave in the winter, Adams explains, most likely because of Western New York's abundant waterfowl, which provides the bulk of the diet for peregrine falcons.
Classified as an endangered bird species in New York State, peregrine falcons were completely eliminated from the Eastern United States in the 1960s, mainly due to pesticide residues in their bird prey. Thanks to efforts like the one at UB and others, there are now 62 nesting pairs in New York State.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.
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