An Update at Great Spirit Bluff

From RRP Director John Howe: A report on the Great Spirit Bluff falcons

07/08/19: Carson at Great Spirit Bluff

Our peregrine falcon monitoring activities are completed for the season, except for the occasional call from a concerned caretaker about a fledgling making it to the ground and navigating its new surroundings. We have the added benefit of watching Carson, our lone surviving falcon at Great Spirit Bluff, and his parents, Michelle and Newman, on camera until he disperses. What a tremendous asset this live cam has been over the past 8 seasons. We have learned so much about their nesting habits and what goes on after banding activities:

  •  Interaction with great horned owls and predation of young
  • The variability of black flies and their effect on fledge success
  • Adaptations and behavior of parents (specifically GSB female Michelle) dealing with flies and GHOs
  • Survival of pre-fledge young after falls, parental abilities, and survival rates after premature fledge

You can watch GSB here: https://www.raptorresource.org/birdcams/gsb-falcons/ and here: https://explore.org/livecams/falcons/falcon-nest-cam.

We have watched a season with both shocking loss and miraculous recovery. It seemed like we were just watching a season with heavy black fly hatch, but then an early morning GHO attack both shocked us with a devastating loss of our young female, Kira, and left us in awe of Michelle’s fierce counter attack confronting the owl face-to-face and forcing it out of the nest (watchers might find this video disturbing: https://youtu.be/5SpCZugv-_Q). Shortly after coming to grips with that loss and no further owl attacks, Carson started exploring and testing Michelle’s patience, as this video shows: https://youtu.be/HA-Kl41i23E.

June: Carson fledges early

Michelle has pulled the young back into the nest box many times after early ventures outside of the front lip of the nest box, and these excursions have typically coincided with flood years and heavy black fly hatches 
– https://www.raptorresource.org/2019/06/24/blackflies/. After witnessing one beak and talon retrieval, Carson fell and all we could do was hope that he did not get injured after the fall – https://youtu.be/-3zi2W_BR3A. History was on our side since our fall/fledge – to eventual flight ratios at GSB are 7 out of 8.

Post fall/fledge, our amazing cam operators found Carson in the foliage below the bluff – https://youtu.be/5TeTsk3AA10.

June: Carson below the bluff

Would he survive to fledge like may before him? It was tense watching as he was visited by raccoons and other forest dwellers: https://youtu.be/CnzFHd5cn7E. The GSB falcons share the bluff with both an active turkey vulture and bald eagle nests below. There is a defined space for them though, as it appears that the falcons “allow” these other raptors to nest relatively close below their protected area of influence. Michelle and Newman vigorously defended the base of the bluff with audible warning calls and even physical strikes to intruders (https://youtu.be/CnzFHd5cn7E). We watched at least one of those events when a raccoon took a hit as it crawled out on a branch and into view! Frequent food drops were made to Carson and that may have been some of the draw to carnivorous visitors while he grew and inhabited the forest below: https://youtu.be/3vssFOdApBA. It is almost as if he had some friends down there to share his food with – Michelle and Newman surely were not as accepting.

Each year we tensely watch a fallen falcon, we wonder if it will survive to the point of gaining flight and showing back up on the bluff. This year Carson fell June 11th and first landed on the cliff face June 27th after 16 days of growth at the base of the bluff. He performed his best rendition of spider man – glomming onto the limestone bluff and looking back as if to say, “What Now!” – https://youtu.be/VuxL-S68g9s.

June: Carson back on the bluff!

It appears that adult falcons are fully capable of tending young after an early fall/fledge and the dangers of them developing under the canopy and taken by predators are not as bad as we may think. Carson ordered many meals over that 16 days and probably shared some scraps with a raccoon or two. His survival and presence in the skies around the bluff are a testament to the resilience of the river cliff dwelling peregrine falcon and how they have adapted to the current threats to their survival; insect, avian, and mammalian.

We now have the opportunity to watch Carson learn the life skills necessary to survive through the rest of his first year. He really is in flight training mode and it is so exciting to see him up close and personal. This 4th of July weekend we have witnessed what you could imagine as jubilant cries in flight training above the bluffs, in-flight food transfers from Michelle and Newman, and an occasional chase to a parent with the lure of a fresh meal!