By Roz Hamlett, Editor
Does something about these cute little fuzzballs of ridiculous fluffiness inspire you to make cooing noises and pet them on their tiny heads?
You’d be wise to rethink that. Because before you dissolve into unintelligible baby babble, it’s best to understand a couple things: For starters, Mother Bird doesn’t abide anyone messing around with her brood. What’s more, with a few additional weeks of growth, peregrine falcon chicks (called eyases), though undeniably adorable, will soon be among the fastest-flying predators in the world, replete with noble beak and a set of full-sized talons.
They dive at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour – the reason F-16 Falcon fighter jets are so named – and they catch their prey mid-air – other birds such as songbirds, ducks and even bats. They have few natural predators.
Yet these airborne masters of the hunt became an endangered species because of the use of DDT and other pesticides, during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. But thanks to partnerships like the one between the Port Authority and NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection, peregrine populations in the New York/New Jersey region have since recovered.
The Port Authority and NYC DEP team monitor peregrine falcon chicks that have hatched on falcon nesting sites near the Bayonne, Goethals and George Washington bridges as well as the Outerbridge Crossing.
Because falcons typically don’t build nests preferring instead to find cliff ledges, the abundance of development and the availability of tall buildings in the New York region have been attractive to falcons as they’ve adapted themselves to an urban environment.
When the population numbers became dangerously low, the Port Authority in 1989 mounted a coordinated effort to build nesting boxes on its bridges. Over the years, some of the nesting boxes were moved onto concrete piers near the bridges to shield the population of birds from construction and traffic on the bridges. Since then, scores of peregrine falcons have hatched in these boxes. The initiative has aided the protection of the falcon eggs by helping them bounce back to healthier numbers. The falcons are banded at these facilities in order to follow the movement, migration patterns and lifespan of the birds.
Had the three chicks featured in the above photograph survived, three additional peregrine hatchlings would call the Outerbridge Crossing home. Unfortunately they were attacked by a great horned owl soon after the photo was taken. Under typical circumstances, peregrine chicks begin to fly in June about six weeks after hatching, and by August, the fledglings will no longer be dependent on parents.