Urban Peregrines of Western Washington...

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Seattle Peregrines Nesting at the Washington Mutual Tower
2009 Season

  Peregrine Falcons first nested in downtown Seattle in 1994 on the Washington Mutual Tower. They used a nest box provided by the Falcon Research Group in cooperation with the building managers, Wright-Runstad. The nest box is located on a ledge high on the east side of the building (56th floor), and can be viewed from several adjacent buildings in the downtown area.

We have installed a live video monitor at street level in the downtown bank branch on Third and University where you can directly view the birds on camera throughout their breeding cycle (late March through mid-June). This image is also available here at our website.

Over the years, there have been several different adult peregrines breeding at the tower, the most famous were Stewart and Bell, who reigned over Seattle from 1995 through 2004. Stewart disappeared, and Bell died, in the summer of 2005.

Since that time, nesting events at the tower have been more sporadic. A pair was successful in 2006, but other peregrines were unsuccessful in breeding there in both 2007 and 2008.

This year (2009), we have a pair in residence at the brand new nest box (built and donated by Martin Muller and placed by building engineer Denise Kolb). Both birds are unbanded so we do not know their specific origin, but they were most likely hatched at a nearby nest site or “eyrie” here in western Washington. The birds may be the pair that attempted nesting last year.

At the time of this writing (22 March 2009), the “new” pair are going through a typical courtship, socializing, perching together at the box, sharing prey and of course, copulating every day in preparation for the production of their eggs (usually 3-4). We cannot be certain when she will lay the first egg but it usually occurs around the last week of March or the first week of April. New pairs, however, are often late in their first year together.

Do not be alarmed if you see an egg sitting out in the cold unattended. The female will be close by. She will lay the eggs at two day intervals, and incubation generally starts in earnest with the third egg. Remarkably, the eggs that remain out in the open prior to full incubation show no decrease in hatchability.

After about 5 weeks (32-36 days) of incubation, the eggs will hatch and the parents will “brood” the helpless, newly hatched young over the next three weeks. “Brood” means sitting on the nestlings to keep them warm. At this phase, it is often difficult to view the young, except during the times when the adults alternate their shifts. As one adult leaves and the other takes over brooding duties, there will be a short window to view the developing young. As the young grow, they will peek out from under the brooding adult’s feathers, and soon the young will be too big for the adults to cover them completely.

Approximately 3 weeks after hatching (sometimes earlier), the young falcons (traditionally called “eyasses”) will begin to start moving about the box and the ledge, exploring their new world. They will growing rapidly at this point and will change drastically in appearance from fluffy white “downies” into fully feathered, sleek juvenile falcons.

Only 6 weeks after hatching, the falcons will be fully grown and ready to take wing. Once they launch off the tower (a very vulnerable point in their lives), they are known as “fledglings”. Over the next three to four weeks, they will learn to fly over Seattle and eventually to hunt on their own. Their prey will be almost exclusively birds, particularly European Starlings and pigeons, which they take in mid-air during spectacular aerial hunts. If you work downtown, don’t be surprised if one of these birds lands outside the window of your office building.

After they start making their own living, i.e. catching their own prey by themselves, they become independent and will eventually “fly off to feed at fortune”.

Both adults remain year round at the tower but the young may go anywhere. We have had reports of our banded Seattle birds from Long Beach, WA, the coast of Oregon, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in San Francisco, the International Airport in Los Angeles, Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia and, of course, here in Seattle.

Those birds that survive the very tough life of a peregrine for two years are likely to return to this general area to establish their own nests and, with luck, will raise the next generation of Seattle peregrines.