This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

A safe haven for falcon fans

UB and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have partnered to build this falcon viewing hut along Winspear Avenue. Photo: DAVID J. HILL

  • Inside the shelter is a bulletin board featuring posters with educational information on peregrine falcons. Photo: DAVID J. HILL

Published: June 2, 2011

As a few unlucky bird watchers learned last year, the UB peregrine falcon parents are rather protective of their chicks.

On at least a couple of occasions last spring, onlookers hoping to get a glimpse of activity in the falcon nesting box in the Mackay Heating Plant on the South Campus reported being swooped by the doting mother and father, named BB and Yankee, respectively.

So to put the falcons at ease, while also offering spectators a safe viewing place, UB and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have collaborated to build a viewing hut near all the action.

The small shelter affords more than just a good view, says Al Gilewicz, assistant director of utility operations, University Facilities. It also features a wealth of educational information on the history of the peregrine falcons at UB, which began nesting in the Mackay tower a few years ago.

The viewing hut is located on the east side of campus, near 250 Winspear Ave. Visitors can park for free on Winspear. The shelter’s roof juts out only 3 feet, but according to Gilewicz, it’s just enough to prevent the protective parents from attacking any birdwatchers below.

“We did it for two reasons,” Gilewicz says of the shelter. “People want to have a place to go to look at the birds. We’re also trying to keep them off campus because of all the construction.

“It happened a couple times (last year), where people felt birds had swooped them,” he says. “So we said, ‘let’s make sure we take care of the people, as well as the birds.’ It’s more of an educational bulletin board, plus a point of refuge in the event a bird, for whatever reason, becomes aggressive.”

The bulletin board features posters with educational information on peregrine falcons, provided by DEC experts, and also notes the falcons’ history on the South Campus, complete with photographs taken m the past two years.

UB Facilities staff installed the bulletin board about 10 days ago. It will be updated throughout the summer, according to Gilewicz.

The nesting box was installed on the Mackay tower in 2009. Last year, facilities staff installed a web camera—dubbed “Falcon Cam”—affording people a unique glimpse into the rare birds’ life, right from their own computer. The UB Falcon Cam is among the most visited of UB’s webpages.

Visitors to the site now can see the parent falcons keep a watchful eye on their four chicks. The falcons frequently can be seen perched at the ledge of the nesting box, or on a nearby branch.

The peregrine falcon is considered an endangered bird species in New York state. But thanks to efforts such as UB’s, there are now 62 nesting pairs. This is the third consecutive year a female peregrine falcon has laid eggs in the Mackay nesting box.

DEC biologists were scheduled to band the chicks today. However, the chicks have grown too big and the plans have been scrapped. The process normally involves scaling 135 feet up to the tower and wrapping numbered bands around each chick’s leg. This year, biologists had planned to use a Plexiglas barrier to temporarily separate the parent falcons from the nest, so workers could band the chicks without being nipped.

Gilewicz says university and DEC staff have worked together closely to support the public’s viewing of the falcons.

“It’s been a wonderful partnership between the university and the DEC,” he says. “We’re not experts. They’ve given us great guidance. It’s a great, collaborative, community effort.”