Flight School: UB's resident peregrine falcons fly on South Campus

Falcon on South Campus

BY KRISTEN DEAN republished from The Spectrum

““The falcons at UB can be seen pretty much every single day of the year, as usually at least one of the adults is perched on Mackay [Heating Plant]"”
Megan Gollwitzer , Spokesperson
NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Release date: October 8, 2018

There are some residents on South Campus who aren’t paying their Campus Living fees, but UB doesn’t mind. 

These feathered residents are peregrine falcons, a New York State endangered species whose presence on campus is both encouraged and monitored by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Students, faculty and staff can tune in to the falcons’ moves too. A “Falcon Cam” near a nesting box on Mackay Heating Plant on South Campus records a constant live video of the resident birds and allows the DEC to actively monitor the nest and allows the public to do the same, without disturbing the birds. 

UB allows the DEC to have continued access to the heating plant tower, so they can band the chicks prior to becoming fledglings –– or birds that are almost old enough to fly. Through watching the falcons, the DEC learns important information regarding their survival and dispersal in the Buffalo region.

The nest box in the Falcon Cam’s spotlight is on South Campus’ Mackay Heating Plant that UB allowed the DEC to install in 2009. This is one of 14 boxes the DEC placed in the region in addition to two known natural nest sites, according to the DEC’s Division of Wildlife. Of these, 10 boxes are actively occupied by peregrines.

UB’s Falcon Cam “allows the public to watch the nesting activities of this very interesting endangered NY species,” said Megan Gollwitzer, a spokesperson with NYSDEC.  

“Through this, an increased appreciation of the natural world is gained by falcon-watchers and nesting information is obtained without any disturbance to the birds,” she said. 

Dixie, the resident mother falcon, has laid 28 eggs in the South Campus nesting box since 2009. Of those 28 eggs, 17 peregrines have fledged or left the nest box, according to Gollwitzer.

In May, proud peregrine falcon parents Dixie and Yankee hatched two chicks in the South Campus nesting box. Unfortunately, one of the two male chicks died before he had the chance to spread his wings. 

The DEC bands falcon chicks, or in falconry terms, eyases, at three to three-and-a-half weeks old. 

“Falcon chicks are in the nest for six to seven weeks,” Gollwitzer said.  After banding, it takes them another two to three weeks to fledge, or leave the nest box.”

 While being banded, “one chick panicked and fell from the nest, succumbing to his injuries,” Gollwitzer wrote in an email.

The two spring chicks were not named, as DEC staff “manages populations, not individuals,” according to Gollwitzer.

“Falcons court annually and begin making a scrape in the gravel of the nest box in March,” Gollwitzer said.

Around four eggs are typically laid by mid-April and after a 33-day incubation period by both mother and father, hatch in the springtime.  From April to July, both falcon parents can be seen in the nesting box with their young - incubating eggs and feeding growing chicks.

The fledged chicks, which spend between six and eight weeks learning to fly and hunt, will then leave the nest. When falcons turn six months old, their parents will “escort them from the nesting territory and the chicks are on their own,” Gollwitzer said.

The remaining chick born in May will likely leave the UB area around November to fly to a “wintering habitat” on the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf of Mexico.  

After a year or two, UB’s chick will be ready to breed and will return north.

Because UB’s chick was raised in an urban habitat, it will likely return to a similar environment when it has come of age, according to Gollwitzer, although it may not come back to South Campus.

In the meantime, it will stay on campus to learn from its parents Dixie and Yankee.

It will be half a year or so until UB sees new, fuzzy peregrines in the nesting box. Until then, students and staff can enjoy sights of resident adult falcons.

“The falcons at UB can be seen pretty much every single day of the year, as usually at least one of the adults is perched on Mackay [Heating Plant],” Gollwitzer said. 

“The falcons can be spotted hunting in the nearby residential neighborhoods or flying over UB at any time, 12 months of the year.”

Other favorite spots around campus include the roof of the Buffalo VA Medical Center, across the street from South Campus, and at the water tower on the intersection of Bailey and Winspear Avenue.

Sadie Kratt, a junior environmental geosciences major, said she believes leaving animals like the falcons alone, “as long as they aren’t putting anyone in danger, is how it should be.”

“We’re in an area of not a lot of ‘green’ space, so the falcons are probably just finding refuge here because there aren’t many other options,” Kratt said. “Wildlife is wild for a reason.”

Erin Moscati, education officer for UB Sustainability, said her office is “thrilled to have nesting peregrines on campus” and that although staff are not bird experts, they “are admirers like everyone else.”

UB community members can view the Falcon Cam through the UB Sustainability webpage.

Kirsten Dean is the assistant features editor and can be reached at kirsten.dean@ubspectrum.com and @KirstenUBSpec on Twitter.

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