Friday, July 6, 2012


STATUS UPDATE:  We have 14 free-flying peregrines. All are doing well, and some of our earliest released birds have been seen "specking out", or flying so high in the sky you can no longer see them. We have one bird in the release box who should be ready for release within the next few weeks, plus four new arrivals to round out our project goal of 20 peregrines. Two of the new arrivals came today, and will be placed in the hack boxes for observation after they are weighed and banded.

As for eating, our birds are eating 20-25 quail per day. This amount will decrease as these birds develop and hunt on their own. We have evidence our earliest releases are honing their hunting skills with the discovery of birds they captured on their own.

Which leads us to a discussion about peregrines feeding behaviors as they develop.

As the peregrine learns to hunt, they will start tail-chasing and grabbing at each other in mid-air.

Two young peregrines tail-chasing.

At the same time, they are grabbing bugs and chasing small birds. With practice, they learn to capture and kill their prey. In the beginning, it will be small birds such as sparrows and chickadees, then they will progress to a little larger birds like robins and black birds. This is a fast developmental period for these young peregrines because sparrows, chickadees, and robins are not large enough  to sustain these large birds as a food source. They soon develop the skills to hunt and kill pigeons, quail, and in the case of females, even larger prey such as ducks. The female's larger body size allows for them to take the larger prey, but they will hunt less often when compared to the males.

We occassionally hear concerns about the peregrine's impact on the local bird populations. Peregrines will, on average, take one or two pigeon-sized birds a day. Small songbirds are not regularly taken by adult peregrines as they would have to catch upwards of 20 plus birds per day. This would not be an efficient use of their energy or time. Remember, their primary purpose and focus is reproduction and survival. Lastly, the peregrine falcon was native to the Black Hills area. They are top predators, which are crucial to the checks and balances of bird populations. This is evidenced by the exponential growth in the rock pigeon and mourning dove populations in western South Dakota.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Friends of a Feather

We would like to acknowledge two key staff members, who work tirelessly behind the scenes. Don Veltkamp transported the falcons to the hack site, which he reconstructed atop the Black Hills Power roof top. He also assists in banding each of the individual falcons and puts in many hours observing birds as well. Last week he recovered from the street one of our grounded falcons!

Mary Ann Pembroke has been indispensable with maintaining our camera equipment and webcam. She is also an accomplished photographer documenting the reintroduction process. She has also housed staff members in her home. Her extensive background in Human Resources helps us in problem solving a variety of issues that come up.

While biologists Fink and Schioberg are often in the limelight, these two individuals are quietly supporting us in the wings! Kudos to these two peregrine falcon staffers. We couldn't do it without you!!

Vertical Environment

There are 10 free-flying birds sporting orange, blue and green wing paint. The first three sets of released falcons, now out for 10 days, are starting to tail chase, stoop, and pursue small birds. These young developing birds hit critical developmental markers as they hone their aerial skills. Much is required before you can plummet towards prey in a stoop that can exceed 200 mph. The younge,r less developed birds are returning to the roof top daily to feed, which is a good indicator that they have imprinted on the release site.

Primo, A16, who had previously collided with a glass window, has now made a full recovery and has been re-released. Dakota, A34, the other bird that collided with a window, is set for an x-ray and we have high hope of her full recovery and rerelease. 

You will note an absence of the birds in the release boxes today. Due to the excessive heat, biologists moved the youngsters into a cooler location to insure their safety from excessive heat stress. They will be returned to the boxes tomorrow as the temperatures cool down. 

Tomorrow another group of birds will take their first flights from our roof top. Biologists continue to monitor them daily and a story to follow will be in the Rapid City Journal. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eyes on the skies

The winds of change are upon us as the 2012 Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction is in full swing.  Currently there are 16 young falcons atop the Black Hills Corps Building in downtown Rapid City.  Two separate releases have occurred in the last week.  The released birds are sporting red leg bands on one leg and silver bands on the other.  They are temporarily marked with wing paint to help biologists monitoring them, determine the more experienced flier.

This summer it is expected that twenty young falcons will be released in an effort to restore the Black Hills population.  Due to the high mortality rate in young raptors this number of released bird is critical to achieving a potential nesting pair. These highly migratory birds will disperse south this fall and overwinter until two years have elapsed and they reach sexual maturity. It is our hope to have a nesting pair return within the next few years.

Initially the new fliers are learning to navigate their vertical environment and this is not without peril.  Power lines, mirrored glass buildings, car collisions, poisoned pigeons, and trains can pose a hazard to inexperienced young fliers.  Since the first release one bird has died from collision injuries and two others have wing injuries but are recovering. 

Currently there are five free-flying peregrines over the skies of Rapid City where they are being tracked daily by biologists Janie Fink and Blake Schioberg. In the meantime, the remaining 10 birds can be viewed on our webcam and plans are to release another group this weekend.

Friday, June 8, 2012


A beautiful late spring day with the normal sounds of the day outside. Rains yesterday refreshed the lawn. Chirping finches are in a vocalization match with the grackles and starlings over who has rights to the birdfeeders. Ahhh. Life is good.

Tomorrow morning, a new sound can be heard over downtown Rapid City, SD: 

That KAK-KAK-KAK is music to the ears of us humans who love this bird, and we are ready to rock and roll. The webcam is up and can be viewed at . "Like" our Facebook page,!/rcperegrines . And of course, this blog will help you learn about THE fastest animal on earth and our conservation efforts.

Our project kicks off on a special weekend in Rapid City, SD. This weekend, the city celebrates the renewal that has taken place after the devastating flood of June 9, 1972. This renewal has been 40 years in the making.

The peregrine's flood, so to speak, was the widely applied pesticide DDT, as well as illegal shooting and habitat loss. Like other wildlife, the Peregrine Falcon population was reduced to critically low levels until legislation stepped in. This renewal, as in Rapid City's flood renewal, has been 40-plus years in the making. Through a program made possible by South Dakota's State Wildlife Grants and administered through the Department of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, we are starting our second of a three year project to reintroduce the peregrine to the state. Our goal is to remove the Peregrine from South Dakota's list as State Endangered. More about what we'll need year over year in future blogs.

Our summer "home" will be atop the corporate offices of Black Hills Power in downtown Rapid City.

We are excited to have them as a partner in our project, and appreciate all they do to help preserve habitat, nesting sites, and the ongoing conservation of the peregrine, osprey and other birds of prey in the Black Hills and the other geographic areas they serve.

So today is a day of quiet rest. Momentarily, one of our staff will pick up the first four of twenty young peregrines in Sioux Falls, SD. They will be carefully transported across the state (driving with baby peregrines in the back is like driving with Nitroglycerine - slow, steady, no bumps). From that point on, from dawn to dusk, our summer months will be focused on the observation, feeding, and caring for these fine birds of prey until they are 100% on their own with nature.

Now, off to check out the hammock...
We'll chat more tomorrow.


Friday, January 27, 2012

New Year! Getting Ready.

January is almost over already! Time to start planning for our 2012 reintroduction of another 20 young Peregrines in downtown Rapid City, SD. We will be at the Birds and Blooms event tomorrow, January 27 from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm with information.

Looking up, and looking forward to this summer!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

They Grow Up So Fast!

The hack boxes are dismantled, the Birds of Prey Northwest crew has returned to Idaho and to colleges, and we have the last remaining Peregrine hanging around downtown Rapid City. Rio, re-released August 17th, visits the rooftop once or twice a day. We're feeding her smaller portions of quail, encouraging her to hunt on her own. It's with relief we see her as confirmation she is still an active bird, but also with some anxiety, wanting to make sure she's going to do well in her upcoming migration. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, and the biological indicators in her brain will send her south in the coming few weeks.

The 2010 Reintroduction project was a success. With only one confirmed mortality, we achieved solid results. Even though statistics say the majority of our 20 will not survive their first year, we can look to our northern neighbors in Fargo, ND. One of their first releases, who bolted immediately upon release, wasn't seen again for a couple years. Mature and ready to begin his adult responsibilities, he returned to sire many of the peregrines who now call Fargo home.

As our new friends are flying south, I'm driving west to visit the Birds of Prey Northwest Rehabilitation Ranch near Coeur d'Alene, ID. A full week observing Janie Fink as she rehabilitates and releases other birds of prey into the wild is in store. I'm sure there will also be some chores like cleaning aviaries. I no longer say "eeew!" at bird droppings and can give you a healthy or not so healthy indication by looking at them. I am also looking forward to some hiking and certainly planning for our 2012 project. I can't wait to share my trip pictures with you!