Attack of the killer falcons!

May 31, 2012 • 9:06 am

Banding peregrine falcons is dangerous work. Reader Michael called my attention to this amazing video showing the banding (or attempted banding) of young peregrine falcon chicks at the University of Toledo.  From the YouTube description:

We filmed and photographed the 2012 Peregrine falcon banding on top of the clock tower at The University of Toledo. People from The Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Wildlife visit every year to temporarily remove the falcon chicks from the nesting box, take blood samples and attach permanent numbered bands to their legs for tracking and future identification.

You’ll see why the job is so perilous: an attacking falcon has seriously large talons:

The parents (I think there are two here) are fiercely protective of their offspring (a prediction of kin selection, of course!), and the handlers need to wear hard hats and brandish “falcon shields”.  Here are some pictures from their Facebook site:

This picture was taken from a helmet cam, showing the parent about to strike. Look at those extended talons!

Do these things really qualify as “chicks”? They’re scary!

26 thoughts on “Attack of the killer falcons!

  1. I liked the use of the wooden shields which reminded me at times of the Roman military testudo formation!

  2. It occurs to me that it’s a good thing that these birds don’t hunt in large packs and think humans are tasty…it wouldn’t take very many acting in coordination to take down almost any non-feline mammal our size.

    It’s a shame that the (really cute, scarily huge) babies need to be manhandled and banded, but I’m glad these people are willing to risk serious personal injury to do so.

    I’m also astonished that anybody would get up on that roof with bare arms, as one of the people hovering near the doorway did. I’d probably want full riot gear, myself….


  3. I wonder if they realized the full impact of their youthful statement: “Mommy, I want to be a Peregrine bander when I grow up.”

    Just beautiful birds. And a fantastic evolutionary product, winged killing machine.

  4. Peregrine Falcons are awesome! I’ve long wondered why they don’t introduce more of them into towns and cities to try and control the pigeon populations. But I guess there’s a reason that they don’t.

    1. The UK has a growing urban population with varying success of artificial nesting sites. A lot has been based around looking at where they have tried to breed and improving the site if needed e.g. putting lips on the ledges as opposed to directly attracting them.

      Among their behavioural adaptions is they are now known to hunt at night as well using the artifical illumination. Some research projects looking at the remains of prey gave unexpected results including birds who standard habitat would make them unlikely victims but get caught in night migration flights.

      1. The Spousal Unit has a Peregrine nest on top of her building at UIC. There’s plenty of pigeon parts around, but there are also other birds that are being offed. Northern Flickers among them.

  5. When I look at those chicks, all I can think is “dinosaurs!”

    We have a family of hawks living down the street from us in Washington Square Park, NYC. Here’s their official webpage.

    The hawks in the city often get poisoned by eating little creatures who ate rat poison. Apparently it makes the shells soft, so it’s hard to reproduce, but it can also be toxic to the juvenile or adult birds.

  6. Holy Toledo!

    This reminds me of the time a Harris hawk landed on my bare fist… fortunately he was quite docile and didn’t have to grip it too tightly until the austringer came over to take him off me.


      1. It’s for the chicks’ safety – they need very firm and precise handling to avoid injury to them: gloves that offered real protection would impede the necessary dexterity.

  7. Near my Florida home there are falcons (I don’t know what kind) who hunt up high, but all the other birds know and are very vocal when the falcons are up there.

  8. I always waited until night to band chickens.

    Just climb the trees in the dark, bring them into the shed, clip on the bands and put them back on the bottom branches.

    From the comments above, these guys aren’t opposed to hunting at night, so banding at night would only mean that one couldn’t see them swooping in.

    How well do they see at night without street lamps?

  9. We have a local peregrine who seems to prey mostly on whitewing doves (we also have mourning doves, feral pigeons, inca doves, and Eurasian collared doves, but the whitewings are bigger and slower than the others). She’s a spectacular bird. Unfortunately she also got a female kestrel once. A peregrine kill is very distinctive – two wings lying flat on the ground upside down, with very little left to hold them together.

  10. “fiercely protective of their offspring (a prediction of kin selection, of course!)”

    and of classical selection.

    So, why are oysters not fiercely protective of their offspring? Question for the kin selection addicts.

  11. I think the third picture (talons view from the helmet cam) would be awesome on a T-shirt.

  12. I think I would have gone about it differently. As is, all the birds get is a hassle, no positive for them. How about taking along some snacks for the birds, and letting them have something for their trouble? Suppose when mama comes in, talons out, you hand her a fresh pigeon?

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