2023 Great Spirit Bluff Recap

We are turning our Decorah Eagle and Decorah North Eagle cameras off on Wednesday, August 16th, so we’re celebrating the 2023 season by recapping events at the sites we watch. Please join us to help say ‘goodbye!’ from 3 to 5pm on our Decorah chat: https://www.raptorresource.org/birdcams/decorah-eagles/.

2023 was a year of cheers and sorrows for the falcons at Great Spirit Bluff. After Newman returned on February 11th, we started to look for Zooey. While she never returned, he attracted a female named Savanna and quickly bonded with her. We saw some competition for the site, but Savanna held on to it and laid her first egg on March 29 at 8:28 PM. Three more eggs followed on April 1st, 3rd, and 5th.

March 1, 2023: Falcon Savanna 40/Z at Great Spirit Bluff.
March 1, 2023: Falcon Savanna 40/Z at Great Spirit Bluff.

Falcons instinctively respond to their offspring’s vocalizations and needs, but first-time parents don’t always understand how to incubate, feed, or brood young. What kind of mother would Savanna be? We waited with bated breath for her first egg to hatch. As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. Savanna was an excellent, attentive mother from the very beginning! She diligently brooded her little nestlings without rubbing away their fluffy white down, fed them tiny morsels of flesh instead of dropping whole birds on them, and protected them from the weather. Her four little falcons grew strong and healthy under her care.

The nestlings’ prodigious appetites and loud squees kept both parents on their talons and sometimes had us reaching for the mute button as the little falcons ate and grew and ate and grew and ate and grew some more! We banded them on May 27, just a few days before their brown and cream juvenile feathers began poking through their fluffy white down.

But tragedy struck on April 12th when an owl killed Savanna. She died fiercely protecting her young, an amazing falcon mother to the very end of her life. We’ve seen falcons die before, but I was crushed. I had hoped to watch her for many more years to come.

March 25, 2023: Savanna basks in the sun at Great Spirit Bluff. I love her full crop and beautiful feathers!
March 25, 2023: Beautiful Savanna basks in the sun at Great Spirit Bluff.

After Savanna’s death, Newman continued to care for Thomas, Alice, Kami, and Jaycie by himself. He kept all four nestlings fed – no small feat for a single peregrine parent! – and perched near the nest box at night. We cheered each fledge and crossed our fingers as we checked the nestbox each morning. As Thomas (named after John’s Dad), Alice (named after John’s Mom), Kami, and Jaycie approached fledge, they began ‘branching’. When I asked John about his favorite GSB moments, he told me he loved seeing the little falcons navigate and hop around the bluff before their first flights. I loved their strong family bonds, sibling squadron aerial chases, and afternoon cuddle naps on the nest box! It was wonderful to watch them learn and explore their wild blue world.

And then the owl came back.

Since the falcons fledged, we know at least two of them were taken by an owl, presumably the same one that killed Savanna. We’ve also seen and heard Newman tending to one young falcon, so we know at least one of them survived…and possibly two, since some watchers report they’ve heard two juvenile falcons vocalizing.

As Newman and Savanna’s surviving young begin their wandering, we’re spotting Newman on and around the bluff. We’ll see green foliage turn red and gold and might see a few falcons visit this fall before Newman departs in September or October. But we’ll keep the camera on, admire the magnificent views and many GSB neighbors, and wait for Newman’s arrival next February. In the meantime, we’ll remember Savanna and hope to spot her little falcons again some day. Thank you for watching, sharing, learning, and most especially for caring with us this year.