10 (+1) Questions for Falcon-Whisperer, Chris Nadareski
We're thrilled to have Chris Nadareski join the list of super-birders presenting at Taking Flight: birding in the Catskills 2018.
Chris climbs the highest bridges in NYC to monitor the city's falcons, and in our enthusiasm, we couldn't help but ask him a few questions. Chris graciously humored us...
Chris, is there a population of peregrine falcons upstate / in the Catskills? Or are they only in the city?
CN: We do have Peregrine Falcons nesting in a variety of locations in the Catskills/Shawangunks.
Of notable occurrences we have three nesting pairs in the Shawangunks alone. Aside from NYC there are numerous pairs nesting on Long Island and on every bridge from the Narrows to north of Albany.
Has the NYC / New York State peregrine population changed over the last ten / five years?
CN: NY States population continues to grow, more so in urban areas as this species tends to adapt well to the changing environment. Due to the falcon’s territorial tendencies we are also observing more intraspecific aggressive interactions which could impact reproductive success, especially where there are high concentrations of falcons – a study that needs more attention.
Are there any new exciting nesting spots that you know about?
CN: I would have to say that the three nesting pairs we have in the Shawangunks are very exciting to me since New Paltz was the site of the first releases of young falcons back to the wild in the early days of the hacking program; a restoration technique employed to repopulate the Eastern United States starting back in the 1970’s.
This effort was possible through a cooperative program with the State’s Environmental Conservation Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the falconry community, and The Peregrine Fund and academia. Dr. Tom Cade, a former a professor at Cornell University and Dr. Heinz Meng, a former professor at SUNY New Paltz developed a cooperative program to raise young falcons in captivity and release them back to the wild.
I studied under Dr. Heinz Meng for my master’s degree with a focus on urban nesting falcons in NYC. I have also worked with Dr. Tom Cade on the present day management of the nest sites throughout New York State. Dr. Cade was also responsible for the development of the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
Do peregrine falcons, merlins and hawks share territories?
CN: Yes. Peregrines are found in overlapping territories with other hawks, owls, eagles, and especially Ravens. I don’t know if I would call it sharing as there are often very aggressive interactions during the nesting season guarding territories and securing food resources. On some of the bridges where the falcons nest, I have documented Ravens, Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Barn Owls and Barred Owls nesting nearby on the same structure. In more natural settings, there are Peregrines and Bald Eagles found on at least two NYC Reservoirs and in NYC American Kestrels are found nesting in buildings adjacent to Peregrine nests. If you look at the most recent Breeding Bird Atlas conducted in NYS you will see many overlapping breeding territories with falcons and hawks. Merlins are typically more of the species that inhabit the Adirondacks in NY as there are on a couple possible nest locations in the Catskills.
If someone finds an injured falcon, what should be done?
CN: Most important is to first assess the situation for personal safety. Many hawks and owls typically get struck by motor vehicles and are observed either flailing in the roadway or along the side of a road. Since falcons nest on many bridges in southeastern NY, finding one on the bridge roadway is not uncommon especially during the fledging part of the breeding cycle. In NYC a call to 311 will often elicit a response for Animal Care and Control to respond to pick up the bird and either hold it until a NYC licensed wildlife rehabilitator picks it up or it’s delivered to them. The NYSDEC has an on-line listing of NYS licensed wildlife rehabilitators. For all bird related calls except for Rock Pigeons, Starlings, and House Sparrows, the rehabilitator must have a federal license number as not all rehabilitators take in birds. You can look up a licensed rehabilitator by County and Town to find the closest. If an individual does rescue a bird they should contact the local NYSDEC Regional Office to inform them of the Good Samaritan effort and ask for guidance if they cannot get a hold of a wildlife rehabilitator.
Birds should be handled with the utmost care as they are probably already in a stressed situation from either an injury or fledging to the ground from a nest. Oftentimes leaving a young raptor on the ground near a nest site is often the best result especially if there are adult in the area unless the property has a pet nearby. Birds should be handled with gloves and picked up with either a towel or blanket over the wings and head to prevent further injury or damage to flight feathers. If possible, the birds should be placed in a cardboard box with air holes and completely covered to prevent escape. The box should be kept in a cool, dark environment until it is either delivered to wildlife rehabilitator or driven to one. The box or carrier should be kept level during the transport.
I often will respond to falcons being found on the roadways near the known nest sites. Once the falcons or other hawks are evaluated by myself, a vet, or a trained wildlife rehabilitator they will often return the bird back to me to band and release it back to the wild.
How do peregrine feel about warblers?
CN: Warblers are a potential food source for the Peregrines. Peregrines only prey upon avian species. The good thing for the warblers is that they often inhabit and fly close to ground level and in the forest tree structure often precluding the falcons from hunting at this level. I think the warblers may be most vulnerable to a falcon’s attack is during migration. I do collect prey remains from the falcon nests in urban and rural locations and seldom find warbler remains in the nests.
Were you ever afraid of heights?
CN: It depends on the location. I have been concerned about some of the nest locations but most important is to have a safety plan for access and rescue if needed. Many of the falcon nest sites are located on bridges, buildings, towers and cliff ledges and are at fairly substantial heights.
One of the tallest is on the top of the tower at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge nearly 700’ above the Hudson River. Some sites are as low as nesting platforms in the marshes along the south shore of NYC/Long Island at a height of 12 feet.
Almost all sites require an evaluation for safe access which may include technical climbing with proper PPE to access bridge towers, climbing out on building window ledges or scaling ladders more than 100’ high.
Some sites including the Shawangunks, you would need rock climbing/rappelling training to drop to a cliff ledge.
Does banding harm the birds in any way?
CN: Banding does not harm the birds. Of course it has to be done properly. I always assess the situation before just going out to band. I have to consider my own safety and the safety of the young falcons in the nest and the adults attacking to protect their young. At some sites I’ve had to hand-trap the adult(s) before banding the young to keep the adult safe from injury.
Some of the falcons that I have banded at nesting locations have survived up to 20 years in the wild with the same bands attached. Sometimes there has been some misinformation about banding circulated when a hawk might injure its foot and get infected and if a band was affixed it may appear to be related. The federal Bird Banding Laboratory requires the bander to be experienced and carry a permit making the individual or agency responsible for affixing the proper size band. The BBL has a well-established list of species with proper bird band sizes and types.
Does the weight of the band(s) affect their flight / migration?
CN: The weight of the bird band is insignificant and does not impact flight or migration. If it did, banding efforts wouldn’t be allowed.
Do falcons migrate?
CN: Yes and no.
From the banding records from BBL, general observations, and recoveries of dead falcons with bands, we know some of the falcons migrate great distances from NYS to locations as far south as Central and South America, as far west as Wisconsin, down the Atlantic Coast, and into New England.
We also receive many location observations of the falcons that were banded not far from the nest locations. Oftentimes some of our banded young return back to the same location to find a mate. One of the farthest travels was from a bird that was banded by a federal biologists on a cliff in Yukon River, Alaska and I found it injured at the eastern end of Long Island that same year.
Have you found pet collars in a falcon's nest? Or is that an urban myth?
CN: Certainly a myth. Falcons only eat other birds, maybe an occasional racing pigeon.
Christopher Nadareski is a Research Scientist and Section Chief of the Wildlife Studies Program for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
As Section Chief of DEP’s Wildlife Studies, Christopher developed and implemented a comprehensive wildlife management program to assess and mitigate the effects waterbirds and mammals on water quality of the NYC water supply.
In cooperation with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Christopher is also the regional manager of the world’s largest urban population of the endangered Peregrine Falcon in southeastern NYS including the Hudson River Valley, Shawangunk Mountains, New York City and Long Island.
May 26, 2018, Chris will highlight the challenges and successes of bringing Peregrine Falcons back from the brink of extirpation in NYS, as well as his decades of banding the baby Peregrines of NYC and the Hudson Valley.