WEST ALTON, Mo. — Anyone with access to a computer, tablet or smartphone and an internet connection can eavesdrop into the secret lives of the fastest creatures on Earth, thanks to the Falcon Watch partnership between the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Ameren Missouri and the World Bird Sanctuary (WBS).
The Falcon Watch program is a partnership that began in 2012 when a peregrine falcon nest box was placed at the Ameren Sioux Power Center in St. Charles County along the Missouri River. A webcam was also installed to allow for monitoring the nesting activity and is accessible for public viewing during daylight hours at mdc.mo.gov/node/16934.
Each year, there has been nesting activity and chicks that have hatched. They have all been banded by WBS staff to help monitor them in the future. The same male of the box each year. However, this year a new female has taken over the maternal duties.
There have been some exciting developments recently at the nest box placed 168 feet atop the Sioux Energy Plant in West Alton. The new resident female has laid a fourth egg in the nest box and has begun the process of incubating her clutch. She started laying the eggs on March 29.
"She will spend upwards of 23 out of every 24 hours incubating the clutch," said Jeff Mesach, Director of the WBS. That the female is now incubating the eggs confirms that she has laid her full clutch.
"The female won't start sitting tight on the eggs until the second to last or last egg is laid, thus ensuring all the babies will be close to the same size when hatched," Mesach said. Otherwise, the chicks hatched earlier would have a chance to grow larger than the ones hatched later, and would out-compete their smaller siblings for food. Waiting until all the eggs are laid to incubate gives all chicks an equal chance when hatched, he explained.
Incubation lasts about 30 days. Once the chicks hatch, they will fledge after 5-6 weeks. According to Mesach, during incubation the male will fly into the box with food for the female two to three times a day, and she will fly off to a perch close by to dine. He will also take some turns incubating the eggs himself so the female can have a chance to preen and feed. When the chicks hatch, the male will bring food for the chicks as well.
Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest animals in the world. The birds have been clocked while diving at 261 mph and it's estimated their top speeds to be over 280 mph. They are native to the state and commonly live in open country, nesting in cliffs and rocky outcrops. They mostly prey on other birds for food.
Due to effects from pesticide use, the species was brought dangerously close to extinction by the 1970s. They were brought back due largely to captive-breeding programs. WBS re-introduced over 80 birds in the 1980s and 1990s to the St. Louis area. It turns out peregrines take well to urban environments, with an ample supply of pigeons for food and concrete ledges and brick buildings that simulate their natural rocky nesting sites.
To discover more about peregrine falcons, visit http://mdc.mo.gov/node/3848