2018 Peregrine Migration Study: So. Padre Island

September 29, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

Thanks to Geoff Pampush from The Peregrine Fund located in Boise, Idaho, we had a very enjoyable opportunity to join the 2018 Peregrine Falcon Migration Study survey team on South Padre Island for two days at the end of September.

Each fall, as part of a long-term research program on Peregrine Falcons, a survey team assembles on South Padre Island, Texas, to observe and monitor the movement of the highly migratory tundra Peregrine Falcons.  The survey team members assess and monitor the health and dynamics of this sentinel species.

Three subspecies of Peregrines nest in North America: the pealei subspecies Falco peregrinus pealei, the anatum subspecies Falco peregrinus anatum, and the tundrius subspecies Falco peregrinus tundrius.

Members of the pealei subspecies nest on the coast of Alaska and British Columbia, and are mostly resident, or only slightly migratory. Members of the anatum subspecies nest south of the tree line throughout the remainder of continental North America, and are migratory in northern areas and resident farther south. Members of the tundrius subspecies nest from Alaska to Western Greenland and are highly migratory arctic birds.

_W7I3367-002The annual survey field work on South Padre Island, is scheduled during both the spring and fall migration. In spring 2017, survey team members expended 191 survey hours in the field, recording 457 sightings and capturing 36 individual peregrines. In the fall of 2017, the survey team expended 429 survey hours, recording 635 sightings, and capturing 131 individuals.



The study area includes the northern 25 miles of undeveloped land on South Padre Island in an area administered by the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. In total, the Laguna Atascosa NWR covers just over 98,000 acres in southwest Texas.  Survey efforts concentrate on the extensive tidal flats west of the barrier dunes along the eastern shore of South Padre Island.

IMG_8292-001South Padre Island is one of the longest barrier islands in the world and is continually being reshaped by wind, waves and the currents. The barrier island’s habitat transitions from sandy beaches to dunes, to broad tidal mud flats bordering the Lower Laguna Madre. The brackish marshes and freshwater ponds bordering the dunes are replenished by rain, an important freshwater source for many species.


South Padre Island is extremely important for many reasons, including its significance to nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. Also, Peregrine Falcons, on their migration to and from South America, ‘stage’ here – the majority of the peregrine population stops at one time or other on the Island to refuel during their long migration. Many neotropical migratory birds also ‘fall out’ on Padre Island.

_W7I3382-001The Padre Study is conducted during the peak of both spring and fall migration.  Survey team members utilize All-Terrain Vehicles, and typically deploy daily from dawn to dusk, based on weather conditions. Sightings of all peregrines are noted according to date, time, location, species, sex, age, and activity.


  • Marking of unbanded individuals with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) nine-digit silver leg bands, or recording of existing band information (from prior banding)
  • Determine age and sex of bird according to Bird Banding Laboratory guidelines
  • Collection of a 2ml blood sample from the brachiocephalic vein; for contaminant, infectious disease, and genetic analyses
  • Collection of feather samples for contaminant and natal origin studies
  • Collecting morphologic measurements.





Geoff and I joined two of the very experienced survey team members on Wed. Sept. 26th and Thursday Sept. 27th.  On Wednesday, we set out in the mid-afternoon and returned to the base camp well after dark. On Thursday we got started first thing in the morning, and arrived back at base camp just before sunset, after a series of torrential rainstorms during the day.

_W7I3771-001In the very final stretch of making our way back along the beach, to the transport truck and trailer, soaking wet in the ATV’s, the clouds started to break up, and the sun started to peek through the clouds. We all paused for a grace-filled moment to watch the full arc of a dazzling rainbow, as a group of horseback riders made their way southbound on the beach along the wrack line, while Brown Pelicans, Caspian and Forster’s Terns, and many Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls were diving into the surf just offshore.

On Wednesday, we sighted 18 peregrines, and banded two.  On Thursday, with fresh winds out of the north, and a series of dramatic changes in the weather, we had 15 peregrine sightings along with the capture, processing, and release of two After Hatch Year female tundra peregrines.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 11.21.57 AMThe extraordinary annual migration phenomenon of the tundra Peregrines is fascinating beyond words. These high latitude tundra peregrines nest across North America from Alaska to western Greenland. They spend the winter months in central US, and farther south to Central and South America. Individual falcons may travel over 18,500 miles per year. They utilize critical migration stopover habitats, including South Padre Island, to rest and refuel during migration.

The full recovery of the Peregrine Falcon is one of the most dramatic success stories for an Endangered Species. The population of these falcons was decimated from exposure to DDT in insecticides. A successful recovery effort resulted in removal from the federal Endangered Species list in 1999.

The continuation of essential monitoring efforts will advance the understanding of Peregrine Falcon population dynamics. Although the Peregrine is no longer listed as endangered or threatened at the federal level, it is so important to recognize its role as a sentinel species for overall environmental conditions.  These conditions impact a myriad of other avian species.

Cited references: South Padre Island Peregrine Falcon Survey Annual Report, Earthspan Foundation/The Peregrine Fund, 2017

Please visit the Earthspan Foundation website at www.earthspan.org as well as The Peregrine Fund website at www.peregrinefund.org for more information on the North American Migratory Peregrine Studies.

Hello from London!

August 30, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

An email arrived a few weeks ago, from Joel and Shad, with this lovely message from a  group of over 60 Lawrence Peregrines fans at a very successful startup company in London!!


Shad and Joel here. We work at a startup in London, UK. We found the webcam for the Peregrines on the tower a few months ago and shared it with our colleagues. Before we knew it, over half of our company had entire monitors dedicated to watching these beautiful birbs. It’d become a cultural phenomenon. Over those months we all watched the Peregrines astutely and captured so many moments; from mama and papa switching places to the first birbling hatching, we were there all the way.

We all shared these moments and all got quite emotionally invested. So emotionally invested that we wrote some haikus about the birbs and did a company whipround to raise some money towards your running of the site. It’s not much, but take it as a token of appreciation for capturing so many beautiful moments of these beautiful birbs.

If you could let us know the best way to transfer you this money, or somewhere you’d like us to donate it to, that would be wonderful. It’s £250 (about $317).

Thank you,

Joel, Shad and about 60 other people

Improbable, London, United Kingdom

The tower rings out
A lone feather in the nest Flutters in the wind
— Luke

Birb enter our hearts
Birb birth many baby birbs All gone now, flown far
— Anonymous

Boston summer breeze;
This air moves less than it should. See you next year, birb.
— Joel

Eggs incubated
As we watched from our basement, Refrigerated
— Lotte

Like brother birblings
With your wings next to mine we Flew for the first time
— Andrea

Waiting patiently Shadow of an empty nest Feathers fall softly
— Bill

From four eggs, three birbs
You didn’t see this fall, discarded I do not have words
— Shad

Peregrines: both adults

August 28, 2018 in lawrence peregrines, Near the Clock Tower

_W7I9324-001Made a stop by the Clock Tower just before 10AM, under clear skies, bright sun, winds from the west at 8MPH, and temp at 86F, to look for any peregrine activity.  The adult male was observed on the south side of the New Balance building along Merrimack Street.  Initially, the male was perched along the roof line, and then it flew around to a number of perches and then flew around towards the nest box.



_W7I9532-001The female was spotted along the the same south side roof line.  She was very bust consuming a snack and feathers were flying all around.  Had a nice view as she was finishing off the pink legs of her fresh catch.  Nice to see both adults in close proximity!

Fledgling in flight; adult female perched nearby!

August 7, 2018 in lawrence peregrines, Near the Clock Tower, Peregrine Falcons Eastern Massachusetts, Peregrine Falcons Massachusetts

_W7I8274-001Made a visit to the Clock Tower this afternoon under mostly cloudy skies, winds from SW at 10MPH, and temp at 94F.  Very little action around the area.  With binocs, made a scan and observed one young falcon atop the tall smokestack on opposite side of the Merrimack River by 250 Canal Street complex.  Then, made a closer look at the distant Verizon Cell Tower at the corner of Hampshire and Canal Streets.  The adult female was perched on the east side of the cell tower on a lower cross bar.  Her black/green leg band was barely visible.

_W7I8326-001One of the juveniles was perched up much higher on the north side of the Cell Tower.  Moved around to the west side of the Tower for a better look with just a bit more light.  The young falcon spread its wings and departed in a downward stoop in pursuit of something just out of sight and returned a few minutes later.  It then made many loops in flight around the tower and landed.

Clock Tower: fledgling off balance!

August 6, 2018 in lawrence peregrines, Near the Clock Tower, On the Clock Tower, Peregrine Falcons Eastern Massachusetts, Peregrine Falcons Massachusetts

_W7I7575-001Made a visit to the Clock Tower later this afternoon under clear skies, bright sun, wind from SW at 12MPH, and temp at 94F.  Both adults were seen perched and in flight around the Clock Tower.  One of the juveniles was perched for a while on the rood below the weathervane, and then launched into flight, circled a few times, and then landed on the nest box perch pole.



_W7I7564-002It was a bit challenged maintaining balance, and tuned around a few times.  Then, when ready to depart, it made a few awkward steps and lost its balance, falling into flight! Amusing to watch and a reminder that the youngsters are still learning their flight and safe landing lessons!

Fledglings eating on ledge

July 3, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

_W7I6334-001Made a stop by the Clock Tower on Tuesday morning at 8:45AM under bright sun and clear skies, winds from the W at 6MPH and temp at. 84F.  The female was perched on the nest box perch pole.  This strongly suggested that the fledglings were close by.  Sure enough, one of them, 27/BU was picking apart a morning meal on an upper story, west facing ledge, of the New Balance building, not far from the Merrimack Street entrance.  Another youngster was above a much higher ledge above the clock face.



_W7I6756-001The fledgling eating prey, was ripping it apart and not wasting a minute.  The other, slightly larger fledgling, 29/BU was content to just watch.  It may have eaten a bit earlier.  They then sat next to each other for a bit before the larger one took off in flight.  Observed all three fledglings, as well as both adults; very nice to see the young family all together!

Fledglings: on the wing!

June 27, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

_W7I3950-001Usually, each youngster may land and remain at a special resting/feeding area near the nest box.  At this location, it will receive food from the adults.  After a few days, the fledged young may be grouped together to be fed, by either parent.  At first this is typically a bill to bill transfer of pieces, but later will be given intact prey to rip apart and eat on their own. At this stage of growth, the fledglings often rest by lying prone on nearby ledges, especially on hot afternoons. When the young are at rest, they may be very well camouflaged.  It is possible to observe billing between siblings on ledges. There tends to be little bickering between youngsters over food.

_W7I3592-001Flutter gliding by the young is frequent at this stage and appears to be the same flight as used by adult females before egg laying.  Once the young are on the wing, the female Peregrine resumes hunting in earnest, and often joins the male again in cooperative hunts. This image shows the female taking off in pursuit of a nearby gull that flew too close to the Clock Tower!

Increasingly, the fledglings make short flights in pursuit of, or in search for the parents. which in a few days begin to adopt aerial foot-to-foot transfers of prey to their offspring.  The young love to chase each other as well as their parents, all in a very playful way!

On the wing: fledglings!

June 26, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

_W7I2596-001One of the great joys of monitoring a peregrine falcon nest, eggs, hatchlings, nestlings, and then fledglings; is the exciting moments around first days of flight.  Although they rest quite a bit, as they adjust to their new life outside the nest box, their flight patterns are a joy to behold.  Most of the flight patterns are a bit awkward, their takeoffs and landings, a bit uneven.  They love to zoom around in playful flight with adults and each other.

_W7I2614-001Flights grow stronger day by day over the first week.  Many times the youngsters will engage in mack combat drills with rolls and outstretched talons. The family usually remains close around the Clock Tower, roosting in many different locations. By now the nest box looks bare, with few remains left behind.

Day 21: Resting on tarsi

June 3, 2018 in Near the Clock Tower

The peregrines started the day under partly cloudy skies, wind from NE at 9 MPH, and temp just over 60F.  The day ahead calls for sunny skies, with a high near 67. East wind around 11 mph.

2018.0603.2We’re now around the three week point for their growth and development. The first juvenile feathers begin to poke through the down on the breast.   The chicks continue to rest on their tarsi much of the time, rather than standing on their feet, but this balance shifts quickly in the days to follow.

2018.0603.1This is the time when wing and tail feathers begin to appear, and wing flapping becomes more vigorous.  The young are now voracious and eagerly watch the return of the parents to feed them. They are brooded little, but still have a marked tendency to huddle together, this being a warmth conserving adaptation.  Chicks at this age have well developed beaks and powerful feet, with quite large talons.

Literature cited:

Ratcliffe, D. 1993. The Peregrine Falcon. 2nd ed. Carlton, England: T. and A. D. Poyser.

The Canadian Peregrine Foundation, Peregrine Falcon Development – Age Guide; http://www.peregrine-foundation.ca/info/ageguide.html

Lawrence Peregrines: feeding and brooding!

May 19, 2018 in lawrence peregrines, Near the Clock Tower

The peregrines started the day watching the royal wedding under fair skies, wind from the NE at 3MPH and temp at 44F.  Sunrise was at 5:19 AM.  The forecast calls for rain, mainly after 11am. High near 58. East wind 5 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

IMG_6888The female was seen brooding and feeding the chicks this morning between 8 – 9 AM.  She still keeps the remaining egg close to her, and visible, while she broods the other chicks.  A bit later, food arrives and she prepares to feed the chicks, while taking a few bites for herself.

IMG_6893The female assumes an increasingly elevated brooding position as the chicks grow, and is especially careful with her feet when rising and moving away.  The brooding female gently pulls back with the underside of its beak, as needed, one of the small chicks, which moves out from under her, as she might hook a displaced egg. Female attentiveness to brooding depends on weather, the number of nestlings, and their age.  Brooding tends to become increasingly sporadic after about the eight day.

Literature cited:

Ratcliffe, D. 1993. The Peregrine Falcon. 2nd ed. Carlton, England: T. and A. D. Poyser.