This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Second camera improves view of falcons

One of UB’s peregrine falcon parents tends to its eggs in the Mackay Tower nest. At last count, there were four eggs in the nest. Photo: UB FALCON CAM

  • Multimedia

    Watch the live streaming video from both cameras.

Published: April 7, 2011

Viewers who log onto UB’s falcon-cam this spring to watch BB and Yankee, UB’s resident peregrine falcon mom and dad, will see more of the pair’s chicks once they hatch and become mobile, thanks to the installation earlier this year of a second camera.

The improved falcon-viewing experience comes to falcon fans courtesy of the facility and utility operations staff in University Facilities and Enterprise Infrastructure Services staff in CIT, who collaborated with Digital Surveillance Solutions Inc., the local company that donated equipment for UB’s Falcon Cam.

The UB nesting box was installed in 2009 near the top of the Mackay Heating Plant tower on the South Campus by facilities staff working with local officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Buffalo Audubon Society. UB received permission from the state Office of Historic Preservation to install the box since Mackay is a state historic landmark.

Last year, the camera’s live, streaming video attracted on average approximately 500 simultaneous connections to the UB Falcon Cam website.

But about 10 days after the chicks hatched, the UB Reporter began receiving anxious email messages and postings from falcon watchers who became concerned when neither parents nor chicks were visible. They feared 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 officials from the DEC, with which UB partners to ensure a safe habitat for the resident falcon pair. 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.”

The second camera, installed by facilities staff prior to this year’s breeding season, provides a view of the perch that extends out from the nesting box, 137 feet above Winspear Avenue, which borders the South Campus.

“This is a great thing for falcon watchers,” says Chris Hollister, associate librarian in the UB Arts and Sciences Library, an avid ornithologist and a past contributor to the DEC’s Breeding Bird Atlas.

He points out that the falcons are a New York state endangered bird, as well as a federally endangered bird.

“People don’t get to see peregrine falcons very often,” he says, noting that the second camera will allow viewing to 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 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 Falcon Cam,” 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 in the Graduate School of Education 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 fearlessness is due to the falcon’s size and incredible speed; they can fly at speeds of up to 200 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 about 20 feet back from the sidewalk on Winspear Avenue under which observers can safely watch the falcons.

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 in 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 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 will 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 will stay through 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, there are now 62 nesting pairs in New York state.