Peregrine falcon faces new challenges in Henniker
Falcon that was injured on top of the Brady Sullivan building in Manchester, NH taken in 2008.
Chris Martin for the Concord Monitor
Spenser Guay, 20, puts on his bow tie as he gets ready for the Gay Straight prom in Manchester Sunday, April 27, 2014 at his boyfriend's house. Guay and Alex Palermo met at Plymouth State University.
It’s been a wild spring, full of soap-opera worthy plot twists for the peregrine falcons nesting atop Brady Sullivan Tower in Manchester, and bird watchers have had a front-row seat to the circle-of-life story.
Over the past decade, a falcon webcam that streams live video of the nest has been offering a window into the life of a 14-year-old male falcon, known as Black/green 6/7. He is the oldest documented peregrine hatched in New Hampshire, and before this year, he has never failed in a breeding attempt, having helped raise 38 young falcons with two consecutive mates.
“He has contributed substantially to the current gene pool in New England,” said Chris Martin, senior biologist at New Hampshire Audubon.
But on March 29 webcam viewers would have seen that the male falcon didn’t return to the nest that morning, where he and his 9-year-old mate were incubating four eggs. Later that Saturday, he was found on the ground 3 miles across town, suffering from a broken wing.
After undergoing surgery, the bird is now recovering at Henniker-based Wings of the Dawn. “He’s alert, obviously he cannot fly,” said organization Director Maria Colby. She doesn’t expect he will make a full recovery.
“Those wings are almost his most important body part,” said Martin, “Unless the recovery is astoundingly complete, it will always be a death sentence to put him back into the wild.”
If the bird cannot be released, the state Fish and Game Department, the Audubon, Colby and several other parties will face a serious decision.
“Do you take a 14-year-old bird who has been free all his life and put him into captivity . . . confined to a cage for the next four to five years,” she said, “or euthanize him?”
It is a tough choice, she said, and not one that the group will make until extensive testing is done. The falcon has a follow-up visit with a veterinarian in the next two weeks.
But in the meantime, life goes on, and it is still thriving in the Manchester nest.
After the male falcon’s injury, his mate of roughly eight years abandoned the couple’s eggs. It takes two birds to incubate them, said Martin and “losing a member of the pair at that point is bad news.”
Within 72 hours, officials spotted a new peregrine circling the Manchester skies and soon the female and a year-old male were engaged in courtship flights. On Thursday, she laid her fifth new egg and the pair are working together to keep them warm, Martin said. The eggs should hatch within a month.
“Laying eggs is the easy part,” Martin said. “The judge of success is, do these eggs hatch and then fledge from the nest?”
And five is a high number, usually the most a peregrine will lay, Martin said. The 14-year-old injured male peregrine helped successfully raise five fledglings from a single nest, the state’s only documented case in the past 30 years.
“Clearly he has some survivor quality . . . (that) we presume he passed onto his offspring,” Martin said. He had been nesting in Manchester since 2001, when he was a year old. All of his chicks have been banded and several have scattered across the Northeast region, Martin said.
One female chick that hatched in 2002 is the breeding female on the W.E.B. Du Bois Library building at UMass Amherst. Another male, from 2005, is in Portland, Maine, nesting on a bridge.
“He is an amazing bird,” Martin said. “He has contributed hugely to our New England peregrine population.”
Last year, researchers counted 22 breeding pairs of peregrines in the state, Martin said. That figure doesn’t include peregrines from unknown breeding sites or all of the young that hatched.
In New Hampshire, peregrines are listed as threatened, one notch down from endangered, Martin said. That shift was made in 2008 and it means the state is “moving toward full recovery.”
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)