During the mid-1900s a chemical pesticide called DDT was widely used to prevent insect damage to crops. The use of DDT greatly reduced peregrine falcon numbers by causing their shells to become so thin that many eggs broke before hatching. In the 1930’s, there were about 1,000 nesting pairs of the Peregrine Falcon east of the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountain region. By 1965, the Peregrine population in the east had nearly vanished. But in 1972, the use of DDT in the United States was restricted and captive breeding and rearing programs began in locations around the country.
WoodmenLife’s falcon program has produced more than 50 chicks in the last 25 years, and continues to provide a rich source of nature education. Programs such as this have contributed to upgrading the plight of the Peregrine Falcon from ‘endangered’ to ‘protected’ and WoodmenLife is grateful to play a part in that success story.
How did peregrine falcons come to the WoodmenLife Tower?
As cliff dwellers, peregrine falcons flourished in urban settings, where tall buildings are plentiful. An abundance of pigeons and starlings supplied the falcons’ diet.
Biologists recognized this adaptation to city buildings and began releasing them on urban rooftops. In 1988, the Nebraska Peregrine Falcon Project released a pair of peregrine falcons atop the WoodmenLife Tower, which was the tallest building in downtown Omaha at the time.
Are peregrine falcons found only in Nebraska?
No, the Peregrine Falcon has one of the most far-reaching distributions of any bird of prey. Peregrines are found on every continent except Antarctica, and live in a wide variety of habitat, from tropics, deserts and maritime to the tundra, from sea level to 12,000 feet.
Why do peregrine falcons nest on buildings?
Although Peregrine Falcons prefer high cliffs for nesting, in cities such as New York, Baltimore and Omaha, tall buildings proved to be an effective substitute. If you think about it, a city skyscraper is tall and constructed of concrete or stone, just like a rock cliff. Plus, there are plenty of pigeons and starlings for them to eat.
I think I saw one of the WoodmenLife Falcons flying over the CWS, how can I be sure?
Here’s what to look for: The Peregrine Falcon is a medium-sized raptor that is slightly smaller than an American Crow. Adults have a slate blue-gray back and wings, and whitish under-parts marked with black barring. The upper breast is clear, and may have a salmon-colored wash to it. A distinct feature of Peregrine Falcons is the dark malar stripe (or mustache) below the eyes. The peregrine falcon has a body length of 15-20 inches, a 40-inch wingspan and weighs one to two pounds.
Do peregrines mate for life?
Peregrine falcons are monogamous, though exceptions do occur. They are even more loyal to their nest sites, especially if they’ve successfully raised young there. Good nest sites are hard to find, so each spring peregrines who want to acquire a site (we call them “intruders”) test the owners of those sites. Intruder males fight resident males; intruder females fight resident females. The winners get the territory, the nest site, and the mate of the remaining peregrine. It is truly survival of the fittest.
When will the WoodmenLife Falcons start nesting?
Nesting of peregrine falcons at the WoodmenLife Tower typically begins in March. The female lays 3-5 eggs at 48-72 hour intervals. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs for about one month. Generally, the chicks hatch within 24-48 hours of one another. Peregrines will raise only one brood per season. The young falcons fledge five to six weeks after hatching. Once they leave the nest, they are not welcome back home. They must find their own hunting ground.
Why does Hera leave her eggs unattended? Shouldn’t she be there all the time?
Once incubation begins, one of the adult falcons is usually sitting on the nest. However, the eggs may be left unattended for short periods of time during warm weather or food exchanges between the male and female.
What about when it snows? Can't you put a heat lamp in the window or remove the eggs?
We don’t interfere with the nest, because it is important to limit, to a bare minimum, disturbance to the birds. There are always risks in nature, but the birds are products of eons and eons of evolution and they can do a better job of taking care of their eggs than we can.
Will the youngest chick get enough to eat? Why didn't one of the chicks get fed during the last feeding?
Yes. Peregrines regularly raise three, four, or even five chicks. The adults make sure that each chick is fed enough.
The chicks get an abundance of food and don't need to be fed at every feeding. When that chick is ready to eat again it will join the rest.
Can I come see the WoodmenLife Falcons?
We take important steps to eliminate any disturbance to the falcons, including an empty office and any visual barriers. There's not a reasonable way to see the falcons without them seeing you. If the adults see people they will exert time and energy defending their brood instead of using it to hunt. That is why we use webcams; it is a way for the public to see what’s going on in the nest box without disturbing the falcons. The only time the nest box is disturbed is during the banding when the chicks are blood tested and gender is determined.