Fledgewatch Day 1: Four Chicks Have Fledged
What a day! Six DWR biologists (including a camera operator) and one volunteer (thank you Erin Anthony!) met at Riverfront Plaza in the early morning of June 23 to remotely open the pen door and allow the four falcon chicks to fledge at their leisure. Both their age (the youngest was 47 days old, the oldest 49) and their restlessness in the pen in the past several days indicated that the time was right for this event.
Unfortunately a technical malfunction prevented the pen door from opening on the first try shortly after 9 a.m. After some improvised troubleshooting involving creative use of a shoelace, the pen door was finally opened at 10:11 a.m.
The four chicks can be distinguished by colored electrical tape placed on the federal band on their right leg – blue (male), yellow (female), red (male) and orange (female and youngest bird of the brood). Blue was first out the door, flying with his parents within a minute of its opening. Red (also male) was out on the ledge by 10:15 a.m. and in the air by 10:24 a.m. Yellow left the pen at 10:35 a.m., and was joined on the parapet by orange at 11:14 a.m. At 11:17 a.m., orange was observed skittering backward over the parapet while trying to maintain her balance – this didn’t work out too well for her, and she was airborne within a few seconds. Yellow finally took her first flight at 1:31 p.m.
So how did the birds fare? The results were mixed. While all were fairly adept at flying, they each struggled with landing, as we have seen in past years with other juvenile falcons fledged in Richmond. While some landing attempts were spot on, others saw the young skittering downward along building facades, at times with some bumps on the way down. One of the males was briefly grounded below Riverfront Plaza’s West Tower, but flew nicely when approached and was able to evade attacking crows. Both males were last spotted flying northward at 10:59 a.m.
Orange was seen flying behind Riverfront Plaza’s East Tower – although she could not be seen, we presume that she was the bird being mobbed by American Kestrels on a fourth floor ledge of the building at 12:20 p.m. That ledge was empty by the time we gained access to the building in order to check. Orange was in sight for much of the day, though, landing at 2:54 p.m. on a low ledge above a sandwich shop on the east side of the Towne Bank building, a few blocks from Riverfront Plaza, and remaining there until shortly after 5 p.m.
She was later found on the parking deck in the northwest corner of the same building. She was still there after 7 p.m., looking as if she may be hunkering down for the evening when the four of us who remained began walking back toward Riverfront Plaza.
Yellow’s first flight took her to the Dominion Energy building, to the northwest of Riverfront Plaza. She struggled to land and clung with her talons to the wall of the old Crowne Plaza Hotel across the street. After several seconds she flew back to the Dominion building, hitting the building on its west side. We found her in a low bush at the base of the building. Although alert and flapping her wings vigorously, we noted some blood inside her beak (potential remnants of a feeding) and above her nares. Out of an abundance of caution, she was transported to Wellesley Animal Hospital, with whom we had previously coordinated in the event of a bird colliding with a building. Although the hospital did not give us an official diagnosis, the bird was said to be ‘feisty’ and responding well to treatment; tomorrow she will be transported to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro for further evaluation and treatment.
Both adults were spotted at various times during the day. As we headed back to Riverfront Plaza after 7 p.m., we saw the adult male on a nearby building with a prey item. But it was the adult female who dropped off prey to a juvenile, which we had seen perched since sometime after 8 p.m. on the corner of the Williams Mullen building, across from the Plaza. Despite our attempts to identify this bird, its legs and bands were generally not visible, so we do not know whether this bird was blue, red, or even orange.
As the light dimmed and a nearly full moon hung low in the sky, we left downtown at 8:45 p.m. We will regroup there tomorrow morning for a second day of Fledgewatch, with the hopes of finding all three juveniles to be safe and sound.