Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ember: Kentucky Peregrine moves to Dearborn

Peregrine Falcons have been seen regularly in Dearborn since 1991, and have been reported annually since 2000. Up until a few years ago, their regular haunts included the Ford Rouge Plant, the concrete channel of the Rouge River, and the Ford Test Track.

Since 2005, Peregrines have been most often seen in an area roughly bounded by Ford Road and Michigan Avenue, the Southfield Freeway and Mercury Drive (outlined in red on the map below, or in the vicinity of this marker).

This area has several appealing features, from the point of view of Peregrines. It has several of the sunflower/wildflower/crop fields planted by Ford, which attract a lot of birds, and it has a half-dozen tall buildings that are often favored by the falcons. One group in particular has been a hang-out for one and sometimes two Peregrines nearly every winter since 2005: Fairlane Plaza South (highlighted in yellow in the map above). It's the home of Ford Motor Land Development, the real estate subsidiary of Ford Motor Co. UM-Dearborn alum and former bird bander Tim Endlein first alerted me to these visitors, and has kept me posted ever since.

Getting a close look at a Peregrine is not easy. For example, the one that spent last winter in Dearborn on the Village Plaza building at Michigan and Outer Drive usually sat on a blind ledge, high up on the building. But the Fairlane Plaza birds often perch on the office window ledges. In 2007, I got this photo third-hand of an office-peeper:

One or possibly two Peregrines once again appeared in late summer at Fairlane Plaza, again sometimes seen on a window ledge.


These photos are frustrating, because the legs of the falcon are not readily visible. Many of the Peregrines in the region are banded with a unique combination of color bands that allow identification of individual birds. Beginning in the late 1970s, a large, cooperative effort to help this species recover from population declines due to DDT was launched. Hundreds of Peregrines were released in the Midwest, and the species is still intensively monitored. The Midwest Peregrine Society brings together many resources in the region.

After letting the Ford people know what to look for, and encouraging them to get a good photo of the legs of any Peregrine stopping by, I got this great shot:

The purple band is a standard U.S. Fish and Wildlife band which carries a nine-digit number. The band is purple to indicate this Peregrine was born in the wild. Since the etched band numbers are too hard to read from a distance, each bird gets a combination of color bands on the other leg with easily visible alpha-numeric codes. I was able to look up "black-over-red, 05 over H" in the Peregrine database.

Please meet Ember, a female Peregrine hatched in April 2010 in a nest box on a smokestack at the Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E) Mill Creek Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River just south of Louisville, Kentucky! This location is about 320 miles away from Dearborn.

Ember is the offspring of one of only about a dozen pairs of nesting Peregrines in Kentucky. LG&E has Peregrine nesting sites at several of their facilities as part of their environmental initiative. The Mill Creek nest box was put up in 2006, and began being used the following year. Ember's mother was unbanded (as was the female each year at the site). Her father may be banded, but this is unconfirmed. Ember has three siblings: males named Volt and Dakota, and a female named Phoenix.

Ember left her nest on 19 May 2010. The photo above was taken in late July. Ford people have reported seeing her (and her bands) as recently as a week or so ago. As far as I have been able to determine so far, these are the first reports of the whereabouts of Ember since she left the nest site.

The Ford folks also think there has been another bird present at times. And since Ember is a youngster, she is obviously not the bird that wintered in previous years. I think everyone is motivated to get a good look at the legs of any falcon that visits at their windowsill now, and if we confirm any additional birds, I'll post an update.

Many thanks to Tim Endlein, Liz Saeger, and others at Ford; Mike O'Leary of the Dearborn Police Department; Chris Becher and Barb Baldinger, Peregrine monitors for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment; and all the others who regularly report Peregrine sightings to me. For more information on the local Peregrine program, please visit the updates on the Macomb Audubon Society page.

7 comments:

"Dr. Bob" said...

Julie - OUTSTANDING! What a great blog! Your photos and embedded links just kept the science of the story going on and on! I kept clicking and learning!
You could have teased us "Harry Potter - style" for the next episode, but you just laid it all out there right now. Great job! Now, like yourself I presume -,I eagerly await the unadvertised and anticipated next episode! - "Dr. Bob"

DINA said...

SO AWESOME!!!

Siobhan Ruck said...

That is quite a crop she has there... no wonder she likes hanging around.

Anita said...

Living in the Ford Road/Telegraph area, I have had the pleasure of seeing a falcon in my backyard on three seperate occassions. The last visit was this past spring, where I was able to witness the falcon "plucking" it's kill. Thanks for the information you have supplied. If I see another falcon, I will attempt to zoom in to the legbands.

Julie Craves said...

Anita, usually the backyard hawks in residential areas are Cooper's Hawks. They have similar streaky breasts, especially their first year. Falcons tend to kill their prey in mid-air in fairly open settings and take it back to a high perch to eat it. It's why they are most often seen near tall buildings, which resemble the cliffs where wild Peregrines live. Cooper's Hawks (and the related, smaller Sharp-shinned Hawks), on the other hand, love to hunt around bird feeders and in residential areas. If you get a photo of a bird, send it along and I'll identify it.

Anonymous said...

wow cool bird

Anonymous said...

Maybe your falcon are trying to tell you something? Like bring the Australian Ford Falcon back to the US?