Feeding Time at the Jail
I have been out and about doing peregrine stuff all season, even though I haven’t been writing much about it. This weekend, I happily stayed closer to home, watching my favorite crazy kids – the jailbirds. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Hercules (have her bands, so this is for sure) and Max (b/g 5/? – so that one is pretty sure too) decided to nest on the western side of the jail again this year. This means that I am spending less time on the garage top and more time skulking around the CTA platform below the nest.
I have noticed over the last couple of years that Hercules tends to be the one who goes out to hunt while Max tends to stay near the nest. So, I wasn’t too surprised when I saw Max sitting on the nest ledge as I rounded the corner on Clark.
It wasn’t long before Hercules came in from the northeast with prey in her talons. Max immediately tensed and started screaming at her, forcing her to veer off her course towards the nest ledge to land on the most southerly of the western niches. Hercules seemed unflustered as she landed, but Max puffed his feathers out and stalked up and down the nest ledge, bellowing at the top of his lungs.
I’ve seen Max behave this way towards Herc as it gets closer to the chick’s first ledge appearance. In some ways, Max really takes on a more female role than Herc. I am not sure why this is, but I have seen this year after year with this pair. Both birds are very large for their sex. This is why my “Max” was banded as a female and named Emily (this is, of course, contingent on whether I’ve gotten the band numbers right). He’s a big boy. Hercules is … well, Herculean. She’s the biggest female I’ve seen by far.
Early on, I considered the possibility that Max may well BE a girl and Hercules a MASSIVE male, but having seen them copulate, it’s obvious that the usual sexual dimorphism exists – female larger / male smaller. So, there seems to be some role reversal with these two and I’m not sure why. It’s interesting to note that during courtship, Max and Herc play out their sexual roles by the book. To me, this all changes as soon as brooding begins. Of course, this is all hard to pin down as I can’t actually see them brooding anything at all, given their nest is hidden. A mystery shall remain a mystery, I’m afraid.
Anywho, back to the observations. After a few minutes, Max jumped off the nest ledge and swooped over to land next to Herc on her ledge. She took off as soon as his feet hit the cement, swooping up towards the nest ledge with the prey. He followed her, screaming the whole time.
He landed and at first, his feathers stood straight on end and his beak was agape – a very aggressive posture. Hercules didn’t seem the least intimidated. She screamed back at him and then turned, clumping awkwardly down the ledge with the prey still clutched in her talon. When she reached the end of the ledge, she turned back around and sort of … chortled? … to him. He stopped screaming and snatched the prey from her quickly. This seemed to temper his mood a bit and the noise died down. Herc and Max both turned to look down into the nest, standing with their wings touching.
Sorry, but it did look awfully sweet, especially in the wake of their vocal and aggressive squabble. Finally, Max hopped down and out of sight, into the niche. I cocked my head to the side and closed my eyes, trying to focus all of my concentration on the ledge. The sounds of the ‘el, people and traffic fell away and I heard the faint high cries of falcon chicks over the harsh, rusty voice of Max. Seconds later, when Hercules dropped into the niche, at least one distinct young voice emanated from the nest.
Hercules and Max stayed down in the niche for about ten minutes. In that time, I heard at least one, maybe more than one, chick. When Hercules left, however, I noted that the carcass she’d arrived with seemed undiminished. As she took to the sky, she curled her head under to snack – busy mom, eating on the go.
After feeding time, Max flew over to land on one of the lighting fixtures on the Board of Trade annex, kitty-corner to the nest niche. He promptly tucked a leg into his feathers and closed his eyes. After awhile, I decided to pack up and head home. Just as I stood, I heard faint peregrine cries and looked up to the niche. A large puff of feathers billowed up and out of the nest. With Herc gone hunting and Max taking a nap across the street, that can only mean one thing, well, if you discount the idea of a haunted nest ledge – wing exercises!
If the jailbirds are on a similar schedule to years past, we should be seeing the chicks pop up week after next or so. In 2006, the chicks were up on the ledge for the first time on June 9th. The first chick to fledge, Sean (the only male), did so on the 12th and his sisters followed on the 16th and 18th. In 2007, the chicks didn’t put in an appearance until the 15th! Chick #1, probably a male, fledged on the 18th and Chick #2 (B’Zilla) on the 21st.