The peregrine falcon chicks that hatched in a nesting box at Louisville Gas and Electric’s Mill Creek power plant are one step closer to leaving home.
The chicks hatched about 23 days ago. Their home is currently a nesting box high on one of the plant’s cooling towers, and since hatching, the chicks have been left alone. But now, it’s time for biologists from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to fasten metal bands to the chicks’ legs for identification purposes.
There are two other peregrine falcon nests that biologists know of in Louisville—one by the Big Four Bridge, and one at the Cane Run power plant. Falcons historically nest on cliffs…but these days, any tall structure will do. At Mill Creek, the whole egg incubation and hatching process has been broadcast via webcam.
There were five chicks that hatched earlier this month, but only four have survived. No one is sure why the fifth chick died, but it’s rare that there are even that many eggs in a nest. A normal clutch is three or four.
In a conference room at the power plant, avian biologist Kate Heyden reaches into a copier paper box that’s labeled ‘falcon chicks—fragile’ and lifts out the first bird. He’s a fluff of white feathers but with big eyes and a deadly-looking beak and talons. He’s also very vocal, and begins screeching.
The scientists put a bandana over the chick’s head so he calms down. Heyden rivets the first band around the chick’s leg. She also swabs their throats, so they can test for a disease called trichomoniasis. It’s often caused by pigeons, and can be fatal for chicks.
Heyden points to a group of feathers around the chick’s tail.
“So we can see his flight feathers are just starting to grow out here, they’re maybe an inch long,” she said. “These are the same feathers he’s going to keep for a whole year after he learns to fly.”
The flying won’t happen for another 20 days or so. Heyden says the birds will begin by flapping their wings for several days, to build up their flight muscles.
“Finally one day, they’ll have enough strength to where they’ll flap their wings and usually end up gliding to a nearby high object,” she said.
Even once they start flying, the birds will stay with their parents until they learn how to hunt. Now that they’re banded, biologists can monitor their survival, and see whether they mate and have chicks in the wild.
To watch the chicks go about their business on the webcam, click here.