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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Peregrine Falcons

Last week I was privileged to be present at one of my daughter's dreams being fulfilled. This was one of those days where you are overwhelmed by God's love and so happy to be alive. There are many days where I feel God's blessings, but certain days stand out above all the rest. Last Wednesday was definitely one of them.

If you haven't gathered from other posts I've written, my daughter is a bird lover. Since her 5th birthday I can remember seeing her love for the winged creatures. I don't know where this love came from as I am pretty shy of birds. This is probably funny since we have a pet parakeet. Valentine, our bird, belongs to Ariel. She feeds her, plays with her, and recently has even started cleaning for her.

I know that someday when my daughter has grown into an adult she will have some connection with birds. Right now her biggest desire is to grow up to be a Falconer. She is obsessed with peregrine falcons. There is a book series called My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I believe this is where her love of the falcons has come from; however, we still don't know where the love of birds came in at.

This past summer we visited the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, MO, another day for the history books where it concerns my daughter. She was in heaven getting to see a real, live, peregrine falcon for the first time. I was so proud of her that day. We talked with one of the ladies who works with the birds and she tried to tell my daughter some new facts. Ariel knew everything. There was no question that she couldn't answer. The lady finally gave up and said, "I think you know as much as I do about these birds. When you finish school, you come back and see us and we'll give you a job here."

Since 2007, the top of Westar Energy has been home to a family of peregrine falcons. On May 6th & 7th of this year, two new little baby boy chicks were hatched. My daughter couldn't have been happier.

The principal, Mrs. Hedstrom, at my daughter's school is a very attentive woman. She knew my daughter's favorite bird was the peregrine falcons. Initially, Mrs. Hedstrom talked to her daughter, who works at Westar, and tried to get Ariel a chance to see the parent birds atop the Westar building. Visitors are not allowed; even employees are not allowed to go up top. With the new birds coming soon, it was promised that Ariel would be allowed to attend the banding of the birds. Talk about excitement in our household! This event was not open to the public, but we got special permission to attend.

We got to witness a little miracle in our family.

mir·a·cle [mir-uh-kuhl] noun
1. an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. a wonder; marvel.

We rode the elevator up 12 floors, climbed up a very steep stairwell (so steep you have to come back down backwards like you would a ladder), and we walked onto the roof of the Westar building to see two beautiful, vocal, baby boy, peregrine falcon chicks.

If you aren't familiar with these falcons, I will give you a little background I learned from Ariel. By the 1960's the falcons were on the verge of extinction because of a pesticide DDT. Bugs would eat the plants which had the DDT on it, then small birds would eat the bugs, and eventually the falcons would eat the small birds. This caused their egg shells to be too thin, and they would crack before they were ready to be hatched. To stop this "falconers" began capturing adult falcons and their eggs to help them hatch in a controlled environment. After the baby birds learned to fly and were hacked (hacking is a falcon term for the technique of getting the falcon ready for hunting on their own), they would be released into the wild.

The use of DDT was banned in the US in 1972. During that time there were 40 known pairs of falcons living in the Midwest. There are current records with the Midwest Peregrine Falcon Restoration project for 2077 peregrine nestings. 85% of the young that fledge their nests are banded each year. It has been almost 13 years since the peregrine falcons have been taken off of the endangered species list.

It was such a privilege to be present at the banding of these beautiful birds. Before they banded the birds, they took blood samples. Jacquelyn Fallon, a representative of the Midwest Peregrine Society, flew in from Minnesota, to help with the banding of these birds. When they prepared for the blood sample, Jacquelyn asked for a volunteer. My daughter was chosen to help, much to her excitement. Ariel got to hold the sample tube, and after the blood was dropped in, she had to rotate it back and forth 5 or 6 times to get it properly mixed together with a solution that was inside the tube.

The way you tell the difference between female and male birds is the size of their legs. The females are 50 percent larger in size. Both birds that we saw banded turned out to be boys. We were shown the size difference for the female's leg band, and we definitely had some little baby boys. The bands did leave a little room for growth, however the birds were 3 weeks old, and practically full grown. They just needed to get all their feathers.

You can watch the birds too by going to their webcam. Since our live visit, we have already spent long periods of time watching the baby birds in their nest. It's Ariel's new favorite website.

Westar held a contest for the naming of the new baby birds. The contest closed June 1st, the day after the birds were banded. Westar is going to narrow the names down to 5, and then will poll the public to get the final two names. In order to enter the contest you had to write, in 100 words or less, the chosen names for each falcon chick, your location, and why you think that is the best name.

Here is Ariel's entry, "I got to see the chicks get banded. I was the kid who helped draw blood. I think Frightful is a good name. I got it from the My Side of the Mountain series. She was a very intelligent falcon. I liked the book because it shows the life cycle. It's a boy name also. She was raised in captivity most of her life. But then she was able to migrate and started to become more wild. I think it's a good name because even though the chick saw a lot of people in their lives so far, they'll still survive in the wild."

This was a day that Ariel will probably remember for the rest of her life. My daughter was positively glowing. You can see a short one minute video that aired on the news if you visit WIBW's website here. We all felt like celebrities, and have since had many of our friends mention that they saw us on the news. I must say after it was all said and done, I'm so glad I fixed my hair that day. I had no idea when we went that it would be a media event.

My final picture is of the mommy bird as she circled above our heads. She put up quite a noisy sight as some humans were taking her babies out of the nest. Can you imagine how you would feel if someone came in and tried to remove your kids from your home? You would probably be yelling a little too!

Ariel said the birds can dive at 200 mph which is how they hunt for food. This was making Ariel a little nervous as we were standing on top of the Westar building and people were messing with the baby chicks. This time the birds of prey were fortunately all squawk, and no fight.

langston hughes

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need."
Luke 12:23-30

*Update* Saturday morning, June 2nd, one of the baby chicks fell to his death. Very sad news. Westar is looking into making changes to the nesting box to try to prevent this from happening again.

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