SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – A pair of peregrine falcons have successfully nested on the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge.
They’ve been returning for years and laying their eggs. Karl Hansen, bridge engineer for the International Bridge Administration (IBA), reported that the pair of falcons nested atop the bridge. Nest boxes for peregrine falcons were installed in 2010. Last year the same pair of falcons successfully nested on the bridge and hatched on chick. The site has hatched 30 falcons since IBA staff started counting the birds Hansen said there could be dozens of more eggs hatched before then by the same pair.
The IBA added a video camera that people can access to watch the falcons several years ago. During the middle of summer, a team from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources attaches color-coded bands to the legs of young birds to track their movements, reproductive behavior and population growth of peregrine falcons.
To band the birds, Hansen said Kristie Sitar from the DNR in Newberry along with a couple of assistants will climb over the rail of the bridge. Everyone wears climbing harnesses to protect them while they are 100 feet in the air. Special care is taken to minimize disruption the falcons. Hansen says even routine maintenance can be a disruption to the birds.
“Right now we’re sweeping sand up from the winter sand maintenance. They can hear us, and they’ll come out and swoop at the workers. Sometimes they get pretty close but no one’s ever been attacked,” said Hansen.
Special regulations have been put in place to limit construction at certain times or to limit distance to the nests.
Earlier this year, nesting boxes for peregrine falcons located on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge between Houghton and Hancock were removed due to needed bridge repairs. Repairs to the lift bridge’s service elevators were scheduled earlier this year, but were delayed due to unavailability of parts. Concerns arose over potential disturbance of birds while they’re nesting.
Hansen said if you look at the feed and see a depression under the nest box, it’s a drain for the pier. The birds used to nest there, but would sometimes have trouble with wind blowing eggs over or taking the chicks from the nest.
“For the falcons, it’s the height. They historically nest on cliffs. There’s a number of them over in Munising. They have the most hatches on record but we’re in second place, so I’m pretty good with that,” said Hansen.
The young falcons will be named once they hatch and the sex of the birds is determined. Hansen said in the past, the birds have been named after Canadian Astronauts and cancer survivors. They have opened up as a contest to IBA employees. Hansen did not hint at any names up for consideration this year.
“Not too long ago the only way a tagged bird was if it died or was killed. With the proliferation of web cams and cameras, the two birds we have, we know where they went because of people with cameras,” said Hansen
The birds are high-speed hunters and are capable of flying at 200 mph. They may help keep populations of nuisance pigeons under control in cities. Researchers have found that pigeons make up a small part of the falcon diet, but the predators may frighten them away from bridges. Keeping pigeons away is seen as potentially saving the IBA maintenance money down the line since pigeon droppings can damage paint on metal bridge surfaces.
“One of the things that’s attractive for the department of transportation in having these birds on our structures is they tend to scare pigeons away. They don’t eat a lot of pigeons, but they do get nervous around when there are peregrine falcons around, and for good reason, because these are great hunters,” said Dan Wiengarten from MDOT.
Peregrine falcons are listed as an endangered species in the state of Michigan. The population was depleted in the 1960s and 1970s from the use of DDT and other environmental contaminants. Conservation efforts in the mid-1980s have helped the number of peregrines generally increase since the 1990s, according to the DNR. While they are on Michigan’s endangered list, Hansen said they are not on the Federal list.
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