5280 Peregrine Watch

Celebrating and protecting the Mile High City’s
first nesting peregrine falcons!

Cricket Montague works high up in a steel and glass office tower with a sweeping view of Denver’s skyline. She’s employed with Comerica, a Dallas-based financial services company, and noticed the aerial displays by a pair of large falcons. She watched them for several weeks flying back and forth in regular morning and afternoon patterns. The speeding raptors looked suspiciously like the once-endangered peregrine falcons. They have appeared in the Denver concrete, steel and glass canyons on a random basis, generally in the early spring months. Since 1988, when Colorado Parks & Wildlife attempted a hacking program to get the then-endangered falcons to make Denver’s high-rises their home, no one has been able to confirm any peregrines nesting in the Mile High City.

As a Ducks Unlimited member, Cricket met Anne Price, President of Raptor Education Foundation at a DU banquet and later showed Anne her photos of the falcons taken with an iPhone through binoculars. Anne communicated the information to her colleague Peter Reshetniak, REF’s Director of Special Projects. Peter contacted Cricket and after reviewing more photos, Peter also concluded that these falcons were more than summer visitors to Denver. He quickly organized a meeting with Cricket to get up into her office building with some better optics to see if this was a mated pair. At that time of the year, this almost certainly meant they were taking care of baby falcons. Cricket’s daily observations led her to suspect that a building at the corner of 19th and Lawrence was hosting the peregrine’s “eyrie”, or nesting area. Unfortunately, despite bringing much better optics, and two more experienced spotters, no falcons were visible anywhere from 22 stories in the air. They looked east, west, north and south. Nothing.

Disappointed, they decided to venture down the streets and see if they might have better luck. Walking along 19th Street, Alex Reshetniak looked up and noticed some feathers wafting down from the south side of the federal courthouse. He quickly got his binoculars and confirmed a male peregrine falcon plucking its prey, just beneath the roofline of the courthouse some 20 stories above the ground. Peter set up his camera and with his 1365-millimeter lens he was able to zoom in and record the video sequence you can see in the second of the 5280 Peregrine Watch series.

Over the next week Cricket monitored the suspected building housing the probable nesting site, and Peter was able to observe food deliveries. Other falcon behaviors confirmed the building as the site of the nest. However, because of how the structure is configured, it was impossible to see any young falcons. After contacting the building’s management company, Peter was able to get up onto the level where the big falcons had set up home. Going outside onto the narrow walkway that provided access to that level was unfortunately not possible.  After talking with the building engineers, Peter learned that the peregrines had been using this building for at least four years! Raising baby falcons during those years could not be confirmed. Anyone venturing out onto that walkway was immediately reminded that they were on forbidden grounds, as one or more of the big falcons would harass the human intruders. The safety cable which encircled the upper level couldn’t certified for use, because the peregrines would immediately defend their territory. Peter is currently working with the management and owners of the building to get at least one camera placed so that the age of the young falcons can be determined.

Within the next few weeks one or more young peregrine falcons will make their first attempts to fledge the nest. These first flights will be fraught with danger. Although Mom and Dad have obviously mastered the reflections of glass windows, shifting shadows, and bright sun, a sudden wind gust could blow an inexperienced flier into a building. REF will be setting up a team of peregrine monitors to stand by should a crash landing occur. Getting the young birds to safety if they land on any of the busy streets and getting them to an experienced avian veterinarian quickly, should the need arise, will be critical for their survival during those first couple of weeks of flying. You can be part of this safety net for Denver’s first nesting peregrine falcons. Watch this page for more information on how you may volunteer. REF will be raising funds for cameras, web service and tech support, binoculars, staff time, veterinary care and monitoring staff expenses. Thanks to Cricket Montague, Chris Schiller, Alexander Reshetniak and Peter Reshetniak for confirming this historic first for Denver. Stay tuned for more exciting falcon footage. Denver is now home to the fastest avian predators in the world!

Special thanks to Unico Properties LLC, for being Denver’s peregrine “eyrie” (nest site)!

As referenced in the first video of this series (above), the male peregrine falcon is shown here feaking (cleaning his beak) after plucking a small bird and delivering it to the nest site. He dropped lunch off, and quickly returned to this spot where he could relax, clean his beak of any pieces of lunch, and then do a full preen of his feathers. You may also notice that occasionally his eyes appear white. He closes the bottom lid upwards and grabs a little shut eye. We don’t know how many young falcons he and the female are feeding at this point, but it will require a lot of hunting to keep even one young peregrine growing well. Their food will be birds in and around the city. This includes the pigeons everyone associates with city habitat, to more exotic fare like small ducks, northern flickers, robins, starlings, and so on. Not only do the parents have to feed one or more growing falcons, they have to feed themselves. Being a successful peregrine parent in any habitat is hard work!

Special thanks to Unico Properties LLC, for being Denver’s peregrine “eyrie” (nest site)!