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Prime time for peregrines

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 10. 2012 9:45PM
Feathers are starting to show on the 25-day-old peregrine falcon, left, but the brother is only 21 days old and behind in growth. (THOMAS ROY / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Two peregrine falcon chicks - stars in Manchester's only ongoing reality TV show - received a quick examination and posed for cameras Thursday.

The 3-week-old chicks, which amount to little more than balls of fluff with aggressive beaks and penetrating eyes, were banded and examined by an Audubon Society raptor biologist.

A webcam pointed at the chicks' nest allows for nonstop viewing on the New Hampshire Audubon Society website. The nest has been located at the 13th floor of the Brady Sullivan Tower in downtown Manchester for 12 years.

'You study these birds for understanding of what's going on in the environment. It teaches you more about the world around you,' said Debbie de Peyster, a volunteer with New Hampshire Audubon Society who participated in the event.

Overall, the peregrine falcon population in New Hampshire appears to be strong. There are now 20 confirmed pairs in the state, according to raptor biologist Chris Martin.

In 1980, there was just one pair.

But this year's Manchester brood featured two live chicks and two unhatched eggs, which Martin removed from the nest and will have analyzed. Scientists have been finding traces of fire-retardent chemicals in the shells of unhatched eggs.

Martin said the chemical, PBDE, is found in carpets, furniture, computers and other consumer products. Its presence is increasing in the environment, but it's too early to link it to any problems with birds or other animals.

It's not unusual to find two unhatched eggs in a peregrine nest, but an overall average is probably closer to one in four unhatched eggs, he said.

Peregrines were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999. In New Hampshire, they were upgraded from endangered to threatened in 2008. State and federal grants still allow for them to be monitored.

The two chicks were banded as males and were designated 71AB and 72AB, the closest the wild animals will get to an actual name.

'In the next few weeks, they'll probably start flying, not very far at first and probably mostly downhill. But they will get it right eventually,' he said.

Falcons bred previously in Manchester have nested in Portland, Maine; the UMass library in Amherst; the Quincy Shipyard crane before it was dismantled; Cambridge, Mass., and the Logan Airport control tower, Martin said.

The two are the first New Hampshire chicks to be banded this year; their location and man-made nest make access relatively easy, despite screeches and aggressive behavior by the mother, Martin said.

Chicks claws are little danger, not so for the adult claws, Martin said.

He participated in a study of peregrines in New England. It found some offspring had migrated as far as Cuba and Nicaragua.

It found that most peregrines preferred the environment - urban vs. rural cliffs - that they were born in.

And the highest known causes of mortality were aircraft collision, collisions with stationary objects, falling from the nest and collisions with cars or trains.

Sixty-one percent of fatalities involved unknown causes.

Environment Animals Derry Manchester Photo Feature

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