Meeting Security James

When I arrived this morning, the male was oot and aboot hunting. As I watched, he got a starling, which he took to the top of a lighting fixture on the outer wall of the building directly west.

Sadly, the little starling was not all the way dead, but I am happy to report, he dispatched it quickly, which made me happy as I have no stomach at all for animal suffering. In a stunning display of carnage, he placed one talon on the bird’s chest and bit the starling’s head off. He dropped it over the side. Then, he plucked the bird with alarming speed and great gusto, causing feathers to, literally, billow around him, at times, completely obscuring my view. He ate the entire thing and dropped what looked like the tail and legs over the side of the fixture.

I would have taken a picture of this, however, I thought it more important to watch him through the scope so I might see any leg band information. I was partially successful when I saw a flash of purple from his right leg, indicating that he’s a Midwestern wild born falcon.

On peregrine hunting habits – Peregrines only eat prey they can capture in the sky – so birds and bats (insects are too small to sustain them, human skydivers a bit too big to manage). They generally look for prey while circling in the sky (soaring) or from atop specially selected roosts, selected for the unobscured view of the hunting area.

Peregrine FalconI notice that both MCC falcons have selected favorite hunting roosts and they habitually use them – the smaller falcon (male?) prefers the skyperch, the larger falcon (female?) prefers the Monadnock ledge.

When the falcon spots prey, it tucks its wings and dives, headfirst, towards it at speeds which, as I’ve mentioned before, can reach an astounding 200mph. The falcon attacks with its talons, generally killing on impact. The prey drops and they retrieve the prey either from midair or from the ground.

A peregrine will eat most types of birds, but flock birds are most susceptible, so our city pigeons are probably a great, slow-moving, feast. Peregrines can kill a bird as large as a waterfowl and has also been known as the “Duck Hawk”.

Often, when peregrines are actively hunting in an area, there will be a number of bird heads scattered on the ground. This is because they habitually bite the head off the prey upon landing with it, probably to ensure the prey is dead, although the impact of the strike generally kills the prey.

Bird Body Dump through Drainpipe 2I notice that the MCC pair not only have favorite hunting perches, but favorite eating perches as well. Both birds like the aforementioned lighting fixtures to the west. The larger of the two mixes business with pleasure by favoring the Monadnock perch for both hunting and eating. The smaller of the two, and occasionally the larger, likes the corner of the southwest stairwell’s roof, right next to where I generally stand on the garage top. The two puzzling pictures of drain spouts attempt to point this out, as there seems to be quite a collection of parts and pieces on that stairwell roof.

Bird Body Dump through Drainpipe 1I would very much like to climb up on that roof to look and see what species of birds are up there. If I did so, however, I’m fairly sure I’d be kicked out. It isn’t worth losing the best viewing spot in the city for the MCC pair. So, at this point, I use the spotting scope focussed through the drain pipe to see what I can see.

New this morning: the bottom half, wings and head of a warbler. Interesting. Looked pretty fresh.

As I took these pictures, the female came out of the nest carrying what appeared to be the remains of a grackle. She dropped it right on the roof above and to my right. It is that puff of black feathers in the center of the drainpipe in the first picture.

Literally, there were 4 new bird carcasses out there today, so the pair is really eating! I am hoping that from this vantage point, the next time one of the pair lands on the roof I can get a great, great view of the leg bands. It’s my new obsession.

As I busily snapped pictures, a man came up behind me. A man in uniform, in fact. I put my camera down and waved ‘hello’, swallowing down a small bit of nervousness. In the post-9/11 world, folks view suspiciously people taking photographs, seemingly of neighboring buildings, in the downtown of a major metro area. It also doesn’t help that my area contains the Sears Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade, the tops of most of the huge federal reserve banks, a good many federal buildings, and, well, a maximum-security prison.

The man looked at me suspiciously and said, in a very authoritative manner, “You cannot be up here taking pictures. You have to leave now.”

I reached down and grabbed my Field Museum badge hanging around my neck and held it up for him. I introduced myself, produced other ID and explained why I was there. The male falcon helped by putting on a nice diving display in which he sped two feet over our heads on his way to the nest ledge. I also gave the security guard numbers he could call to verify all of my information. Briefly, I considered offering my camera or watch, but that seemed imprudent, as this security guard seemed like the type who would stand no foolishness.

To my surprise and delight, he eased up considerably as Max zoomed over and introduced himself – “James.”

James asked a number of questions about the falcons and I could see he’d formed an instant fascination. I answered what I could at this early date in my falcon education and promised to research the questions I couldn’t answer. I let James look through my scope as we talked. As I packed up to leave, James handed me his card and asked me to drop off my contact information before fledging season so that he and his coworkers could alert me to grounded chicks.

This is one of the huge perks of this assignment, I think. Although I consider myself far more an animal person than a people person, I really do dig how excited folks get when they learn something about the natural world co-existing with us in this urban environment.

As I got on the elevator, James called to me. “Hey! You ruined me! Guess what I’m going to do now?”

“Go take all your breaks on the garage top and watch the birds?” I called back.

“Oh yeah, that, of course! But, I’m also going to the library right after work to check out some books on falcons. This is really cool! Learned something new today!”

So, welcome to falcon watching, James! The falcons and I both made a new friend today.

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~ by Steph on May 9, 2006.