SPOKANE -- Two peregrine falcon chicks received leg bands from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials last week so that more can be learned about this endangered species.
The young birds, living under the Sunset Highway Bridge just west of downtown Spokane, are from one of just 56 nesting pairs in Washington. They also are one of the few families of peregrine falcons residing in an urban area of the state. Other urban pairs are on downtown Seattle buildings and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which also simulate the cliffs they would choose to nest on in more natural settings, and while urban peregrine nest sites receive the most attention by people, they are not common nor as successful as more natural, remote sites.
"The colored and numbered leg bands, which can easily be seen with binoculars, will help us keep track of these individuals when they fledge or fly on their own in another couple of weeks. The birds will then migrate south this fall and hopefully return to the Pacific Northwest in the future," explained WDFW urban wildlife biologist Howard Ferguson.
Ferguson banded the chicks with the help of Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) special equipment operator Bob Warner, bridge engineer Mark Serbousek and bridge technician Brian Miaymoto, and local falconer Doug Pineo. DOT provided a truck with a special "U"-shaped mechanical arm and bucket to carry Ferguson, Warner, and Pineo to the falcon nest underneath an arch of the bridge, high above Hangman Creek in Spokane's Highbridge Park.
The protective parent falcons flew and shrieked around the crew while the chicks were briefly handled, Ferguson noted. "But since they've been through this with us a couple times before, they actually seem relatively accepting of it now."
The pair have truly adopted Spokane as the place to raise their families each year; they have returned to the bridge nesting spot for at least five consecutive years. Both parent birds are leg-banded themselves because they are from a peregrine falcon recovery project on the Clark Fork River area on the Idaho-Montana border. The male was hatched and banded in 1994 and the female in 1991. This pair of birds has produced 13 chicks in Spokane; five were banded, including this year's two male chicks.
"The banding is important because the more we know about peregrine falcon health, survival and distribution, the closer we move toward down-listing or de-listing the species," Ferguson said.
Peregrines declined worldwide by the early 1970s, due to the use of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, especially DDT. Peregrines prey on smaller birds which feed on the insects targeted by the pesticides. The chemical contamination in the food chain resulted in egg shell thinning and loss of reproduction for the falcon.
By the 1980's the banning of DDT coupled with captive breeding and rearing efforts began boosting peregrine numbers across the country. Peregrines were reared in downtown Spokane in 1988-1991, but none of those birds returned.
In 1980, at the onset of these recovery activities, Washington had only two known nesting pairs of peregrine falcons. By 2000, a total of 52 pairs produced 75 young. Of the 73 peregrine territories that WDFW monitors annually across the state, 28 are on the coast, 18 in North Puget Sound, 12 in the Cascades, six in the Columbia Gorge, three in Columbia Basin, three in the Seattle-Tacoma area, one near the Snake River, and one in Spokane.
While urban sites receive the most attention by people, they are not common nor as successful as more natural, remote sites.