Sean Visits the MCC

(Chick’s Day One, if I am right and the chick(s) hatched today)

I didn’t get any pictures yesterday due to the constant drizzle of rain and the rather high wind. Today, however, it was crystal clear so it wasn’t hard to talk Sean into going to the garage viewing spot with me.

We left the house at 9:15am and by 9:30am had set up camp on the roof. I had my spotting scope out, my camera ready and my field notebook open. We scanned the sky hopefully. And scanned. And scanned. 30 minutes later, my very patient husband sheepishly asked how much longer we might be staying.
“Oh, about 5 minutes,” I said, feeling dejected. I really wanted him to see at least one of the adult falcons.

Peregrine FalconNo sooner had I said we were going to leave, then down VanBuren flies one of the falcons. It lit on the ledge of the nest niche and chattered and squawked loudly. An answering, but quieter, chattering and squawking came in return. It jumped from the ledge and disappeared down into the nest niche. Right after, a larger falcon hopped out of the nest niche and took off. It’s coloring was slightly different too, Sean and I both agreed. It cruised down
VanBuren, going east, and soon was out of sight.

Male Peregrine Falcons generally are smaller than the females. I noticed today, and even a bit yesterday, that one of the MCC falcons is markedly larger than the other. So, the one that cruised down VanBuren probably is the female. We shall see when I get the leg band numbers.

At any rate, Sean was instantly enamored.

An interesting note. About 5 minutes before we finally saw the first falcon, we were adjusting the scope’s tripod and both saw the very swiftly moving shadow of a bird travel across the ground. By the time we looked up, it was gone, but we both agreed it certainly looked “raptor-shaped.” Then, we heard a commotion down by the entrance of the jail. On the corner, under the eaves, by the front door, I notice three prison employees taking a smoke break. They stared and pointed at something that had just dropped on the ground about 5 feet to the left of them. It was a dead pigeon. Sean and I wonder if the falcon shadow and the dead pigeon were related, since they happened, literally, seconds apart.

Probably sometime in the night or this morning, one or more chick hatched. I noticed immediately that the MCC falcon’s seemed to be behaving differently. One or the other stayed within eyesight of the nest at all times. A lot of vocalization occurred when the parents switched places in the nest niche. This had been a silent switch in the preceding days. Plus, Sean and I saw the female (?) bring a half a starling into the nest. In my small time watching, they’d never done this.

On Nesting Seasons – The peregrine nesting season in Chicago occurs on a predictable timetable from year to year:

  • February – March: Adult pairs begin courtship, copulation.
  • Early April: Females lay eggs.
  • April – May: After eggs are laid, the 32 day incubation period commences.
  • Early May: The eggs hatch.
  • Late May – Early June: Mary begins putting leg bands on the chicks at about 21-24 days old, when the chicks have grown to their full-size.
  • Mid-June – Early July: Chicks fledge (fly for the first time) at around 40-42 days old.
  • Late June – Mid-July: For around three weeks after the chicks have fledged, the adult parents will teach them to fly and hunt. At some point, the chick flies away and starts its adult life.

If the Wacker chicks began to hatch on the 4th, two days ago, it seems conceivable that the MCC chicks might be hatching now too. On Monday, I’ll tell Mary about the behavior changes and see what she thinks.

So, I can picture the MCC chicks at least, since I’ve seen the Wacker chicks. They should weigh about 1.5-1.8 ounces and are covered with gray-white down. Just little, fuzzy bundles at this stage, who have to have the parents sit on top of them (brood) in order to stay warm.

Unlike their parents, which have bright yellow-orange legs and beaks, the chick(s) have pink-gray legs and beaks. They are virtually blind at this stage, so pretty helpless. They won’t feed for the first 24 hours or so. Rather, they live on the bit of yolk from their egg that they eat as the last meal. After 24 hours, they will begin begging their parents for food. The parents will tear off small strips of meat and dangle them in front of the chicks. You can see this stage here.

Peregrine FalconBack to the adults, who I can see. The larger female (?) favors the ledge beneath the eave on the top southwestern corner of the Monadnock. This spot provides direct sight line with the nest niche, since the Monadnock building stands to the northeast of the MCC, across the street. She grooms and rests up there, but always keeps one eye on the nest.

That is, unless she is actively hunting. While Sean and I watched, she spotted a few starlings flying in and silently sprung from the ledge into a dive. A small noise and a puff of feathers followed and she swooped up, holding a starling in her talons. She chose to perch near the top of the Manhattan building, to the east across two streets. After a bit, she went back to the nest with some of the starling and dropped in.

I suppose it is becoming clear (or, rather, washed out, over-dark and/or pixelated) I am no wildlife photographer. Partially, this is because I am too excitable at present to remember I’m holding a camera most of the time. I hope in the next weeks that I’ll calm down a bit.

The other problem is the digital camera I’m using. It is a nice camera that Sean and I borrowed (for years) from our friends John and Jim, but it is more of a snapshot camera. It has a 3x zoom, but it is digital rather than optical. As well, it records at 1.3 megapixels.

After our experience with the falcons, Sean and I went home to look at cameras. We’ve been wanting to return John and Jim’s and get our own anyway and I’d done some research on new options. Thankfully, amazon was running an extraordinary sale and we found one of the cameras I’d been lusting for marked down about 50%. So, as I type, a new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20K 5MP Digital Camera with 12x Image Stabilized Optical Zoom is on its way.

Hopefully, my picture quality will reflect the brilliance of the camera. Hopefully.

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~ by Steph on May 6, 2006.