Elevator doubles as falcon home
From the top of the 244′ Briess elevator in Manitowoc, the panoramic view of Lake Michigan is a stunning sight. To the Peregrine Falcons that nest there, it’s home.
The Peregrine Falcon nest was installed in 1992, part of the Wisconsin Peregrine Falcon Recovery Program. Founded by Greg Septon, a former researcher at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Recovery Program was developed to re-populate Peregrine Falcons. They were put on the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1969 after being almost eradicated by the pesticide DDT. After DDT was banned in 1972, it cleared the path for the re-population effort.
The Manitowoc elevator, acquired by Briess in 2014, was one of many Wisconsin locations that erected nesting boxes at the request of Mr. Septon. In 1998, it attracted its first pair of nesting Falcons. Since then, Peregrines have been successfully nesting in the elevator, producing more than 80 eyasses. Mr. Septon offers Briess nest care and instructions regarding the nesting Falcons. He also bands the young, which help Mr. Septon and volunteer observers track the birds. To share the nesting experience and provide a tool to help Septon track the birds, Briess installed a webcam in 2015. It streams to a webpage that is open to anyone wishing to watch the birds in action. Infrared lighting has since been added for 24/7 online viewing.
The Recovery Program and similar groups in other regions, with the assistance of organizations like Briess, are making progress. While the Peregrine population had been completely eradicated east of the Mississippi River by the late 1960s, today there are an estimated 1,650 breeding pairs in the U.S. and Canada. For more information about the Manitowoc nest and Peregrine activity, visit the Briess blog.
The Peregrines typically arrive in February, after wintering in other locations. Septon has tracked Manitowoc-produced Peregrines to Milwaukee and as far south as Austin, TX. Peregrine Falcons commonly return to the same nest site year after year and mate with the same partner, but younger males and other adult males and females in the area may be looking for new territory to claim. After settling down with a mate, the female lays a clutch of three or four eggs in late March or April, at 2-3 day intervals. The young eyasses are nurtured for three months at which point they have fully fledged and are flying. Over the next month, they may periodically revisit their nest site, but as they build confidence and courage they will expand their boundaries and travel to new territories. They are also learning to hunt on their own, teaching themselves to maneuver through the sky.
Peregrine Falcons are known as the world’s fastest animal, able to perform aerial dives that exceed 200 miles per hour. Their bodies are uniquely equipped for these high speeds. Unlike other birds, the Peregrine’s nostrils have a special, aerodynamic bone shape—similar to that of a jet engine—that breaks the air from rushing into their small bodies. If they did not have this adaptation, the force of air at 200+ mph would burst their lungs.
They also have a thicker than usual “keel”, or breastbone, making them very durable at high speeds and able to take on a great impact when charging prey. Furthermore, these unique falcons have a third eyelid, allowing them to keep their eyes on the prey at top speeds—making them capable of spotting prey from a kilometer away.