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Fox Hall now has four new residents: peregrine falcon chicks that hatched earlier this spring in a wooden nest box on the roof of the 18-story building in the East Campus.
And, as usual, the chicks’ protective parents took turns swooping down and attacking the team from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (DFW) that went up on June 10 to check the status of the 3-week-old chicks and put identification bands around their legs.
“The chicks are all doing very well,” said state biologist Thomas French of the DFW Field Headquarters in Westboro. “They are fat, plump, big and healthy. The parents have been feeding them with lots of birds, mainly pigeons and chimney swifts.” French determined the brood to consist of two males and two females. He said by early July, they would have shed their down and be ready to fledge (take flight and leave the nest).
“There’s a very good chance for these falcons to survive,” said French. “They’ll migrate elsewhere, perhaps to Worcester or even New Jersey or Pennsylvania.” According to him, the life expectancy of falcons in the wild is at least 10 years. “The leading cause of premature death for them is hitting windows and wires,” he said.
The young falcons actually hatched from a clutch of five eggs. “Since 1987, this is only the fourth time in the state’s history that five eggs were laid instead of the usual four,” said French. “But so far, none of them have had all five survive.” The egg that failed to hatch at Fox was brought to the DFW lab for examination.
Peregrine falcons (scientific name Falco peregrinus) are the fastest birds on Earth, capable of diving from great heights at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. These raptors tend to nest on rocky cliffs as well as tall buildings and structures in heavily urbanized areas.
The Commonwealth considers peregrine falcons as “endangered,” so it’s illegal to harass, hunt, capture or harm them in any way. The widespread use of pesticides, especially DDT, in the 1950s and '60s had wiped out the falcon population in the eastern United States. “Today, there are only 16 known breeding pairs in Massachusetts,” said French. “The bulk can be found in Boston and the eastern part of the state.”
The peregrines’ hideaway at Fox was discovered by accident in 2007, when workers tried to attach a large banner to the side of the building. At the time, the female had laid eggs on a bare bed of gravel on the roof, but the eggs didn’t hatch. The following year, Erik Amati of the DFW Northeast District in Acton built the wooden nest box, and a clutch of four eggs was laid. Although the eggs again failed to hatch (the gravel in the nest proved to be too coarse), the falcon couple did adopt and raise a young male fledgling from Lawrence that the DFW had introduced. This year Amati changed the gravel to a finer size, which finally led to success.
Edward Smith and Jeffrey Bodwell of the University’s Facilities Department have been keeping tabs on the nest box via a webcam installed on the roof. “A second webcam, donated by Mercier Brothers Electric of Dracut, was placed inside the box so anyone can monitor the falcons 24/7,” said Smith.
You can watch the webcast at http://188.8.131.52/view/index3.shtml.