Falcon Information and Adult Behavior

Do falcons drink water and bathe like other birds?
Laura doesn’t know if it is unusual but she thinks that if the water source is nearby, it probably isn’t. In her observations over the years, she has only witnessed one time Kinney and his then mate Scout bathing on top of the old Block’s building. She was inside a building on the 25th floor watching it all. He stood guard while she bathed and after she was done, he waded in while she went to a sunny spot and dried off. Perhaps we don’t see it as much with the Indy birds because we don’t have the vantage point from up high to witness it. Whether they go over to White River and take a dip or a drink, she doesn’t know.
How old are falcons when they mate?
Falcons will mate at about 2 years old.
Why do the adults return to the nest box after the juveniles have gone?
We usually see one or both adults go back into the nest box. When Kinney was alive he used it as a source for scraps of food or as an escape later when the juvies began to bug him. It also might be a pair bonding behavior for the adults. But we really don’t know what the behavior might be attributed to.
Where do the adults go after the juveniles are gone?
Historically the adults have will generally stayed around their territory in Indianapolis after the kids leave. Their food source is plentiful. You may not see them so much in the mile square area in downtown Indy as we do when the chicks are in the nest or fledging, but you can occasionally see them.
How close to the ground do Kinney and KathyQ hunt?
The Pigeons around the Monument Circle area have wised up and know the peregrines are there so they stay close to the ground and fly only short distances. If you watch, you will also see that pigeons fly erratically, not in a straight line. Peregrines want to know where the prey will be upon contact and choose easier targets. The color of the prey has nothing to do with it other than the brighter they are the easier they are to see. Laura has witnessed Kinney coming as close as 8 feet above sidewalk to take prey. If he does not catch it in the air before it hits the concrete, he will land and retrieve it. They normally don’t hunt close to ground however, it is too dangerous with cars, wires, people and windows all around.
Do the falcons hunt for food at night?
Laura won’t say they never hunt at night, but that is not the usual hunting routine for them.
Do Peregrine falcons migrate?
Peregrine falcons can, and will, migrate south. The Indianapolis pair does not because they probably wish to protect their territory, their food source is plentiful and our winters are usually not that harsh. We will generally get reports of sightings of them throughout the winter time. The peregrine falcon will migrate as far as South America so they can fly great distances.
How many eggs do falcons usually lay?
It varies from pair to pair, but is usually between 3 and 5 eggs. Kinney and KathyQ usually laid 4.
When does egg-laying usually begin?
This also varies widely. Our special K’s begin egg laying in March. In 2006, the first egg was laid on March 11th, the fourth on March 18th. In 2007 the first was laid on March 17th, and the fourth on March 24th. The Harrisburg falcons laid their first egg in 2007 on March 26th.
How far apart are the eggs laid?
According to the observations we have made over the years, the eggs are laid anywhere from 8 to 32 hours apart. This IS an average though, it could take longer and has in the past.
How long is the incubation period?
The trick is when you start counting. Richard Kinnett says it is 33 days, and he starts counting the day before the last egg is laid.
Why isn't the female or male sitting on the eggs?
They don’t sit on them constantly until the last egg is laid, because incubating doesn’t start until then. All they need to do is to keep the eggs warm enough and dry. According to John Castrale, the eggs can be left alone all day if the outside temperatures may be enough to keep the eggs sufficiently warm. Usually some incubation needs to happen at night when the temperatures drop. Once incubation starts, however, constant temperature IS required and one of the adults will be on the eggs at all times.
Why do the eggs hatch within a few days of each other when they were laid as much as 8 days apart?
It is because the adults don’t start incubating until the last egg is laid. If they were to start when the first egg is laid, the chicks would hatch as much as 8 days apart. Close hatching will enable the chicks to fledge closely together and mature at the same rate.
What is a 'Pip' and how do I know if I am seeing one?
A pip is a break in the shell, made by the egg tooth (a temporary horny cap on the chick’s upper beak that serves for pipping (breaking through) the shell. It usually dries and falls off within 18 hours after the chick hatches). This is referred to as external pipping.
To see a small pip, see below

Small pips

To see an egg closer to hatching, see below.

Close to hatch
How big are the falcons?
Adult males are 14-16 inches tall and weigh 1 – 1½ pounds. Adult females are 16-20 inches tall and weigh about 2 pounds. Both of our sub-specie have a wing span of 33-35 inches.
How can I tell if I am looking at the male or the female?
If they are together, the female is quite a bit bigger than the male. If not, the bands on the left leg of the bird is the best way IF they have them. If you can’t see the bands, it is very difficult to tell.
How can I tell if the bird in my yard is a peregrine or not?
A lot of people think a peregrine falcon is visiting their yard. This is possible but extremely unlikely. It is much more likely it is a Cooper’s Hawk, a bird frequently mistaken for a peregrine. If you think you have a peregrine sitting in a tree in your yard, or anywhere else, check out the picture below to note the differences.

Coopers hawk

Chicks and Fledging

If I find a downed falcon what should I do?
Please call ?? on his cell phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx as soon as possible. Please give complete street address as the names of buildings change.
Do the juveniles ever just take off from the nest box perch?
For first flight, this would be highly unusual. However, we have seen a juvenile return to the perch after fledging and take off from it.
Do the adults encourage the juveniles to fly?
We’ve both read and observed that they do to some degree. They feed them less often and try to bait them out with food.
Does the learning to fly process speed up once one has “Taken the Plunge”?
Well, that is hard to predict. The first one to fly may sit for a good long time where it lands or it may decide to go again right away. Just like humans, they are all different and it will be what it will be! There have been years where the last one to fly has taken a couple of days after the others have started. When we had 3 males and 1 female down on S. Meridian, I (Laura) think the female took at least 2 days after they boys were out. The males definitely tend to fly first because they are smaller and lighter.
Do the chicks (eyases) take food from the parent whole?
Usually, the female feeds each chick while they are in the nest box. As they get older and bigger, an adult may leave the prey food for them to feed themselves while they are still still in the box.
Why do the chicks not fight to get food when they are being fed?
Laura has indicated she is always amazed that they seem to know when it’s their turn and are not more aggressive about trying to take some food away from the sibling being fed. They just let the lucky diner eat in peace.
How long do the juveniles stay in the downtown area after they begin flying?
We can’t pinpoint exactly how long they stay in the downtown area because we stop monitoring them after the first couple of weeks. They become harder to locate once they begin flying well and could be anywhere in the downtown area which makes the task of finding them very time consuming and often fruitless. They have to learn to hunt prey on their own before they begin their wandering.
What do the chicks drink?
They get their fluids from the prey they eat. Once they are out flying, Laura has seen them take little drinks from puddles but not on a regular basis.
What time of day should we expect the juveniles to make their first flight?
Laura wishes she could tell you what time of day it is going to happen. She really don’t know – in the past it’s been early in the morning, late in the morning, early afternoon or late afternoon – obviously, as you can tell, it could happen at any time!
Why is the mortality rate so high for young chicks?
Laura is sure there are several reasons why the mortality rate is high and is is probably a combination of things. What we have had reported for several of our Indy birds is building collisions. I think it is due to lack of experience with buildings being in the way when they are going after prey and the falcon’s tremendous speed. As the skyscrapers have helped the return of this bird from the endangered list, they are a hazard for them also. Sometimes, they don’t even migrate from their birthplace – as recently as 2000 one of the juveniles was found dead on the top of Conseco Fieldhouse. Believe it or not, people still shoot these birds too. One of the Indy young ones was found shot in 2005 and had to be euthanized.
Is the mortality rate just as high where there are no tall man-made structures?
In their natural habitat they would nest on cliffs or ledges so they still have the potential to fall and die. Also, the eggs can be eaten and destroyed by raccoons or other mammals and the eyases are much more susceptible to predation by Great Horned Owls (something they don’t face in the heart of a city) so their mortality rate is not that much different.
Will there be pictures posted of the chicks after they are flying?
Historically there are no pictures posted after they are flying. However, now that the Indy Falcons Facebook page has been set up, pictures are posted there.
How long will the juveniles continue returning to the nest box once they learn to fly?
Until the last couple of years we didn’t see the chicks returning to the nest box once they started flying. If we saw a bird in the nest box via falconcam, it was almost certainly one of the adults. The last couple of years however, they returned often!
The juveniles seem to interact with each other. In what ways do they do that?
What is really the soul-catching hook for Laura is observing the way the juveniles do interact with one another. Although they may start flying within a day or two of each other, they still seem to gravitate to one another once they are out and about. If one flies to what appears to be a more appealing ledge or rooftop somewhere for some unknown reason, you can almost guarantee within minutes the siblings will follow. If one is left behind, oh my, the pitiful wailing we hear down on the street.
Laura has been lucky enough to witness falcon rooftop games or puddle jumping. If they alight for a while, they will often find something to play with – a loose piece of rubber hosing or some old leathery prey carcass left behind that they will pick up in their talons and give it the old slap down. This usually involves one juvenile acting out while the others look on in seeming bewilderment or maybe it’s just impatience while waiting for their turn to play. Mantling prey is another story. It involves a very serious game. Once they have fledged and have flying comfortably under their belts, the parents still bring food to them. But eventually the juvies will run and try to take the food from the adult when the adult lands with it nearby. Whoever wins the foot race to mom or dad, will take the prey and then mantle the food. They sort of hunch over it and spread their wings in a cloaking action, keeping any brother or sister from it. Once the victor is done with eating, the others get their chance.
It only takes a small puddle for young falcons to frolic in, particularly on a hot, sunny day. We think we have fun at the seashore! You should see these guys.
Then there are the spectacular, breathtaking tail-chasing games and aerial ballets, as they get more confident in flight.
Time out for a little rest or nap is a fun time to watch them, too. They will often settle right next to each other on a ledge somewhere. One year, we observed two sisters on a Columbia Club ledge facing the Circle, squashed down, face to face. They would turn their heads almost upside down just to look at each other and then immediately ignore each other right after that. They had us volunteers on the street doing that, too. Yes, we can be really silly falconheads.
I know this clannishness won’t last and they will eventually go their separate ways. And I suppose theoretically somewhere down the road, siblings could become competitors for the same territory and have a not so pleasant outcome. Laura doesn’t look that far ahead though, she just enjoys the moment.
One of the chicks hasn’t moved for a long time. I think it may be sick or injured.
Laura has watched the chicks and juveniles in the past and they will sometimes set or stand motionless for hours. The duration from one camera click to the next is 30 seconds. At times you have to catch them breathing or blinking an eye to tell they are still alive.
What happens when the juveniles tumble from the nest box onto the ledge?
They will attempt to fly from there. The parents will feed them wherever they land also and it usually is only a couple of floors down from the nest box. Sometimes they do fall again when they are busy walking back and forth on the ledge.
When do you rescue the juveniles? Do you take them back to the nest box?
If one of them tumbles from the nest, we don’t rescue them. They will attempt to fly from there. Now if they fall to the street, we return them to the 31st floor ledge but we do not place them back in the nest box.
What exactly is 'Fledging'?
Fledging pertains to the first flight from the nest location and a successful return to the general next area. However, Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines “flege” as:
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity; also : to leave the nest after acquiring such feathers
transitive verb
1: to rear until ready for flight or independent activity
2: to cover with or as if with feathers or down
3: to furnish (as an arrow) with feathers

Banding, The Nest Box
When are the chicks banded and who decides?
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources decides in conjunction with the Market Tower conference room schedule, when the banding will occur. It is usually 21-25 days after the chicks hatch.
Can you give us information about the nest box?
The nest box is about 32 inches square. The roof slopes to the rear. It has about 2 inches of smooth gravel on bottom and drain holes in bottom. Also, I don’t know if the rulers help you give a perspective of the birds’ size but that’s why they were installed. Of course, you’ve got to catch a busy chick standing perfectly still right by the ruler marks to see!
The perch is part of the nest box you see from inside. It is about 16 inches high by about 6 inches from front to back. The top of the perch sits level with the building ledge which is about 12 inches away.
The ledge is outside the nest box. It goes all round the building with a few obstacles at the bottom of the 31st floor.
There are other ledges on 29, 27, 25 and 23rd floors. The juvies frequently use the lower ledges when they are learning to fly.
The front edge of perch you see that looks like it is part of the perch is actually the top narrow edge of the ledge, about 5 inches away from perch. Very tricky for a chick to walk on and more so if it is wing flapping. From there it drops down at about a 45 degree angle to the ledge which is about 4 inches wide.
The stanchions are the upright pillars that end at the base of a lightning rod on the roof of Market Tower (Red Key) building. Everything is counted from the left regardless of which side of building you are facing.
For diagrams, please visit the Downtown Indy page
How wide are the lower ledges?
The lower ledges (on 29, 27, 25, 23) are about 30 inches wide. They consist of a gutter about 2 feet wide containing gravel to catch rain and a raised ledge about 6 inches wide. The top of the raised ledge is 4-6 inches above the gravel ledge.
The gutter area on the 31st floor is where the people walk to go out to the next box. The entrance to the ledge is on the right side of the support structure for the Red Key sign. It is about 24 inches square.
Can you give us more information about Market Tower?
A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. See Market Tower on the Downtown Indy page.
Where are some of the buildings you talk about?
Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words See Circle Buildings or Buildings North of Circle on the Downtown Indy page.