Sunday, July 01, 2007

Peregrine Falcons on the Ohio

We have had a pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting in the old Big Four Bridge on the Ohio for several years. The Big Four is a railroad bridge that goes nowhere, since the approaches on each side of the river were removed at least 20 years ago. Unlike other cities where the falcons nest in boxes on a skyscraper ledge, we do not have any sort of live cam to track the falcons. Sometimes you get lucky, though, and see them flying around downtown.
Occasionally, we get really lucky and see them flying over the Falls of the Ohio too. Saturday morning was the first time I've seen them this year. I had walked up near the dam, trying for some good shots of the herons and egrets in the shallow water. Suddenly, I heard a kakkak-ing noise and looked up under the railroad trestle. One falcon swooped overhead carrying something in its talons almost half as big as it was. Close behind was another bird, about the size of a crow, chasing it. In the rear was another falcon, trying to chase off the crow. Given the size and apparent weight of the prey, the lead falcon eventually had to drop the prey. It was just too much to carry and maneuver at the same time. The crow went away, and both falcons landed on the trestle to re-group. Finally, a chance for me to get some photos of them, since the ones I got during the flight were pretty blurry. One seems to have a more buff colored belly, while the other clearly has stripes on the belly. I don't know if this is gender related, but I suspect that one of them may have been a juvenile.
One of the other volunteers said he had seen two falcons the other day over the river. They were calling loudly back and forth, and one had something in its talons. At some point, the lead bird dropped its cargo and the second caught it mid-air. Falcons teach their young how to hunt by such practices, so I think this was the parent and fledgling playing catch with a small bird.
PS: I heard from Adam Smith with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife about our falcons. He confirmed that the buff breasted one was the adult, and they more striped breast belongs to a juvenile. He also said that the Big Four pair fledged four youngsters this year, but one of the is in rehab for a while, and should get well enough that he can be released. Good news!

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