It was a surprise to everyone standing on the Michael Duane Clickner Memorial Bridge in Wabasha Wednesday morning when they found three healthy peregrine falcon chicks squawking inside the tray stationed underneath the large bridge.
Photo by Amelia Wedemeyer
. Midwest Peregrine Society’s Jackie Fallon and Jennifer Drayna tend to one of three peregrine falcon chicks. The three chicks are part of a family nested underneath the Michael Duane Clickner Memorial Bridge.
Originally, both the Midwest Peregrine Society and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) crew members believed that there were two little chicks in the nesting box, which was built and placed on the bridge by Mn/DOT crew members in 2009. The excitement over the discovery of three fuzzy peregrine chicks was shared by both Mn/DOT workers and Midwest Peregrine Society (MPS) members as they snapped pictures of one another handling the chicks carefully with two hands. “I wasn’t sure how many [there would be],” said Kamarie Livingston, a volunteer with MPS. “Anytime you get any birds, it’s exciting, when you have three or four that’s always great.”
The banding and blood sample collection of the 15-or-16-day-old chicks — one male (Wally) and two females (Daytona and Kora Rose) — consisted of drawing each chick’s blood from a spot on the wing and the attachment of two different bands, a federal band and an alphanumeric band specific to MPS. The work is part of a partnership between the MPS and Mn/DOT. “It’s part of Mn/DOT’s [efforts] to help out with peregrines across the state,” explained Larry Waletzki, bridge maintenance supervisor for District 6. “In 2009 we got a phone call from Jackie [Fallon of MPS]. The Eagle Center had noticed there were some peregrines in the Wabasha area around the bridge,” Waletzki explained. After Jackie and her group requested that Mn/DOT put a nesting box up, the agency built a nesting box and set it up that spring.
“This is the first year they’ve nested or even attempted to nest on the bridge,” explained Fallon, who has been with MPS for 27 years. “That’s why this year is so special. We’ve had a variety of different pairs show up and show interest [in the past], but with the bluffs nearby, the bluffs are extremely attractive because of their height.”
While the bluffs are appealing for peregrine falcons due to their height, the bridge location has also proved to be viable because of the proximity to water and food, as well as the lack of human disturbance. For Fallon, the bridge conditions are conducive to the nesting peregrines, her work with monitoring the birds and to pigeon control efforts of Mn/DOT staff. “The partnership that we’ve got with the DOT staff is phenomenal, and I could not do this [without them],” she explained, adding, “and if the pigeon control helps them out and keeps their bridge cleaner — that’s a bonus!”
Peregrines in the Midwest region are known to eat over 100 prey species, including pigeons, starlings, blackbirds, bluejays, gulls and ducks. According to the Mn/DOT crew and MPS staff, the area under the bridge where the nesting box was placed was littered with the remains of various birds. “It’s just interesting to look down in the nesting box area and see what they’ve been eating,” commented Mike Dougherty, public affairs coordinator with Mn/DOT. “[There were] some little legs from small little birds.”
Waletzki agreed, elaborating, “It’s been nice since they moved in here because pigeons are a problem. They’re dirty, they’re nasty, they leave disease — things like that — and we typically have to clean things up before we work [on the bridge]. When the bridge is clean, we don’t have those kinds of issues, so everybody smiles when we talk about having these falcons in the area.”
Although peregrine falcons are on the protected list of species, having almost been eliminated in the 1950s due to the use of DDT and other chemicals, they are steadily making a strong comeback. “We’re on board to have the best season yet,” reported Fallon, who has banded 72 chicks this year alone.