Memory Lane 2021: The Bachelor, Great Spirit Bluff edition

We’re used to a little falcon flirting. Despite the species’ reputation for monogamy, we’ve seen and heard males display, chup at, and solicit passing females before their mates show up to chase off interlopers. But Newman was in a league of his own this year as falcon after falcon showed up to flirt and accept his food gifts. While he wasn’t really a bachelor, he seemed to enjoy the attention. Picture dead birds instead of roses, bare-knuckle brawling in place of gossip and innuendo, and two broken records for daily copulation once Newman accepted his bachelorette! The story went something like this…

February 26, 2021: Newman expels a pellet!

February 26, 2021: Peregrine falcon Newman, aka The Bachelor

Newman and Nova return: Molly 66/H stops by

Newman returned to Great Spirit Bluff on Wednesday, February 24: just a day before mate Nova. Despite Nova’s presence, Molly 66/H, a 2017 hatch from the Minneapolis City Hall in Minneapolis, MN, showed up on February 27th. She perched on top of the box and Newman chupped at her, but she didn’t stay.

Newman courts Lacelon and Amhran

Things remained relatively calm until March 4, when Newman invited Lacelon 53/X, a 2018 hatch from 3M, into his nest box. She appeared interested, but Nova showed up and escorted her off the property. That didn’t stop Newman from flirting with Amhran 92/X, a Amhran 92/X, a 2018 hatch from Skidmore Bluff in Hagar, Wisconsin, on March 5! He invited her into his nest box, offered her a rose food gift, and tried to copulate with her. But before their relationship could really get off the ground, Nova chased Amhran away on March 6.

Hello and goodbye to Nina: Nova disappears
Nina M/04, a 2019 hatch from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, accepted Newman’s attentions.

Nina M/04, a 2019 hatch from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, accepted Newman’s attentions.

What’s a bachelor to do with a steady stream of interested falcons showing up at his door? On Sunday, March 7, Nina M/04, a 2019 hatch from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, accepted Newman’s attentions. He courted her, brought her food gifts, and copulated with her. We thought that Newman had finally decided to settle down, but Nova showed up on Tuesday, March 9. She and Nina launched into a no holds barred battle, rolling around in the nest box and biting, ripping at, and footing one another. Nina finally worked her way free and escaped, and Nova disappeared not long afterwards.

Zooey wins the rose!
March 10, 2021: Zooey from the back

March 10, 2021: Zooey. See her brown feathers? She is molting from subadult into adult plumage

Newman’s busy week wasn’t over! An unbanded female falcon showed up on the afternoon of March 9, not long after Nova’s final departure. Unfazed by all of the activity, Newman courted her. She initially rejected copulation, but Newman was determined to win her heart! After chupping, food gifts, tandem flights, and more food gifts, we recorded their first copulation on March 11. Newman had finally accepted his bachelorette!

Season wrap-up

As fun – and as silly – as it was to thrill to this season of ‘The Bachelor’, it was an interesting year at Great Spirit Bluff. Newman courted six falcons this year. What was going on? Male falcons are (usually) faithful to their mates, but they aren’t monogamous as we define it. If a female falcon kills or chases a male falcon’s mate away, he’ll (usually) accept her (almost) as soon as the fight-or-flight action is over. A lot of female falcons were winging north past Great Spirit Bluff on spring migration. Newman did what male falcons do: everything he could to attract their attention. And Nina did what female falcons do: chase interlopers away. Since she was oddly absent from the box on several occasions after her return, potential mates felt free to approach Newman without fear of reprisal.

Why did Zooey finally win his heart? Nova disappeared and migration was winding down, which reduced her chances of being ousted by yet another seeker for Newman’s rose. This was lucky for her, since a two-year old falcon might have a hard time squaring off against an older, more experienced competitor.

This year’s season of ‘The (Falcon) Bachelor’ was unlike anything we’ve seen before, but we don’t really know how rare it is or how common it might become. Compared to previous generations, falcons today might nest closer together, begin nesting earlier in the season, or begin nesting later in life. Mate competition could grow more competitive and sustained as the population grows and prime real estate fills in. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens in 2022.

About those copulation records. Our cam operators recorded 11 copulations on Friday March 26 – a record for our nests! But on Monday, March 29, they recorded 12. Way to go, Newman and Zooey. We hope to see both of you again next spring…and I, for one, hope Zooey keeps the rose!