Since May, I along with many other birders and office workers in downtown Tacoma have been captivated by a family of Peregrine Falcons who took up residence on one of the tall buildings.
Four white Peregrine Falcon chicks – called eyasses in falcon terminology – hatched in early May in a nest box near the top of the 16-story 1119 Pacific Avenue building. The chicks were banded soon after birth and given names through a contest sponsored by Tahoma Audubon. The three males were named Chris, Jake, and Eeyore, and the one female was named Hope.
The father of the young falcons, Murray, was born and banded 13 years ago on Tacoma's Murray Morgan Bridge. His mate, Harriet, is an unbanded falcon, so her age and origins are unknown.
The Tacoma News Tribune featured an article about Tacoma’s falcon family accompanied by wonderful close-up photos taken by Fergus Hyke, a local falcon volunteer and photographer who happens to work in the building.
Maybe because they live in an “urban canyon” of tall buildings with narrow ledges, unpredictable wind gusts, and windows that reflect and confuse, the development of these birds throughout the month of June was filled with much drama and even death.
This drama is not unique to Tacoma. It plays out in major cities throughout the world, as there is usually a Peregrine Falcon pair that takes up residence in many cities due to the semblance of high buildings to cliffs and a surplus of their favorite prey – pigeons. They will also attack starlings, ducks, and other birds.
I didn’t realize how quickly Peregrines and other raptors develop. When I saw them for the first time on May 29, they were white downy chicks. In just a week, they had dark feathers growing through the down and were much larger in size. Within just 6 weeks after hatching, they were flying.
Fledging is a very difficult process for young raptors, especially when there are buildings to negotiate and windows to decipher and avoid. Unfortunately, one of the chicks – Chris - flew into a building and died. Both Jake and Eeyore had accidents as well. And then Hope hit a window. She was taken to a wildlife rehab center and placed back on the ledge a few days later. While her two brothers have become flying machines, Hope is apparently still hurt and unable to fly very well, so her future is uncertain.
Only about 30% - 40% of young falcons live through their first year even in natural surroundings, so it’s not surprising – but no less heart-breaking - when one of them dies.
Sometime probably in July or early August, the family will disperse and the young falcons will find their own ranges. Murray and Harriet will hopefully be back at the same site in January or February, starting the cycle over again and raising a new family of falcons. Next time there might even be a webcam.