Conserve Wildlife Blog

Union County Falcons Thrive in Urban Ecosystem

June 8th, 2022

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Kathy Clark carefully places a young falcon in a reusable shopping bag.

On May 23, NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Supervisory Zoologist Kathy Clark and myself visited the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, NJ to band the three eyases that were produced by the nesting pair of peregrine falcons. We were joined by Union County staff and guests, who assisted with the banding. The nest is located on the roof of the building. As soon as the hatch made a sound, the adults took off and started to defend their nest and flightless young. As we enter their turf, we are dive bombed by the adults — it is clear that the female has become more aggressive — as she flies very close to us on the roof in sweeping dive bomb attacks. As Kathy goes to the nest to grab each young who are placed in reusable shopping bags, I use her trusty feather duster to ward off the adult female. All who enter the roof wear fall arrest harnesses and hard hats. Kathy and I know that the hard hats are not just worn for fall protection, but also from attacks from above. Both of us received bumps from the adult female to our helmets!

After getting the young inside, we brought them to an open area where they were transferred to a box. Then each was examined and blood samples were drawn before banding them for future tracking. The blood samples are taken to help screen for potential sources of harmful pollution, like lead, which has been seen in urban nesting falcons in the past. Luckily, that has never been the case here. Before being banded, the culmen (upper mandible) is measured to determine their sex. All three are female – who are larger than males – with a culmen that is more than 18mm in length. They are big and feisty! Union County staff and guests held each nestling as they were banded with a black federal and bicolor state band: BM/89, BM/90 & BM/91. These bands are crucial for tracking the movement of these falcons as they eventually disperse and seek their own nest site when they eventually reach adulthood.

Since banding, the brood of three sisters have been exploring the roof top of the courthouse and strengthening their flight feathers in preparation for fledging, which should occur in the next week. This is when they are most vulnerable to injury, as they are not experienced flyers. Many times fledgling falcons can end up on the ground nearby, and we always look for volunteers who live nearby who can be on fledge watch. Thankfully, Union County staff are vigilant and know to keep a keen eye for any fledglings who may end up on the ground nearby. It is no surprise that this pair and nest has thrived in a bustling urban ecosystem. It is a glimmer of hope for falcons this year as many other nests have not been very productive.

Thank you to our partners and sponsors who support our work with falcons and the Union County Falcon Cam — NJDEP Fish & Wildlife, Union County, and Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery!

>> Watch the live streaming Union County Falcon Cam!

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One Response to “Union County Falcons Thrive in Urban Ecosystem”

  1. Frank Budney says:

    Always enjoy watching the Union County falcons over the past several years. Watching Kathy Clark and her team members, working with the Union County Parks & Recreation team (Betty Ann Kelly) and volunteers such as yourself shows real dedication. The Union County Court House has been a very successful nesting site and all of you should be congratulated for your efforts.