What’s going on at Great Spirit Bluff?

What’s going on at Great Spirit Bluff? Why isn’t Zooey feeding her young? Why doesn’t Newman taken over? And what’s up with Zooey’s shuffling?

We turned to Board member and Gyrfalcon breeder Jim Robison to help answer your questions. Although it isn’t true in every case, first time falcon mothers are more likely to be reticent about feeding, to fumble food, to eat dropped food, and/or to feed inappropriately-sized bites to their hungry young. Zooey stashed and prepared food and chupped at her young, but she didn’t seem to understand how or when to feed them. We saw her tearing off chunks that the hatchlings couldn’t swallow, picking up and eating dropped food, and offering food instead of stuffing gaping beaks. Zooey appeared to want to feed her hatchlings, but she had no knowledge or experience to guide her.

What about Newman?

So why didn’t Newman help? Peregrine hatchlings need almost constant brooding until their thermal down begins to emerge on day eight. During the first eight to ten days of nest life, Mothers do nearly all of the brooding and feeding, while fathers provision their young and mates. Since Zooey was brooding, chupping, and trying to feed her young, Newman didn’t know or understand that his young weren’t getting fed. Falcons are largely guided by hormones and instinct. They can learn, but they don’t tend to innovate.

Why is Zooey shuffling so much?

What’s up with Zooey’s shuffling? Jim told us that this was a very normal behavior for first time parents. They have no experience to inform or cope with their instinct to roll eggs and shuffle young until they’ve gone through their first season. Although the afternoon shade, large rock, and backless box are all helping to keep the nest cooler than it would be otherwise, I have to wonder if the oppressive heat is adding to Zooey’s stress. Zooey’s hormones are telling her that she has to brood, while her brood patch and heat response are telling her that it is very hot. She might respond to the conflict by rolling and shuffling instead of getting off her little hatchling or staying still through the long, hot day. She is a brand new, first time Mom, she has a lot to learn, and she is doing the best she can.

While some of you have described Zooey as obsessive or paranoid, her dedication bodes well for future broods. We have our fingers crossed for this nest (and for cooler, less stressful weather) and look forward to banding on June 19! We are keeping a close eye out for problems with blackflies and hippoboscids – especially given the heat! – and will respond if we think it is necessary.

We use Tom Cade’s ‘Guide to Management of Peregrine Falcons at the Eyrie’ to age nestling falcons and help make nest management decisions. It states that ‘At eight days, the second down begins to emerge in the spinal tract along the backbone’. As the second down emerges and Zooey’s nesting hormones ebb, we should see her shuffling and rolling begin to decrease. We don’t have long to wait!