by Bob Chambers
(May 11, 1998)
In a flash "Father Hennepin" dove out of the mist at the brink of the Canadian horseshoe falls at lightening speed on to a flock of unsuspecting doves. Feathers flew in all directions. Yes, it was a wild unbanded male Peregrine Falcon. I soon learned of the location of the nest and met "The maid of the mist" [i.e., "Amelia Earhart" -- see below].
My story about the Peregrines started on April 24th when a friend of mine, Dave Belme of the Niagara Falls fire department, asked if I could confirm a sighting of a pair of Peregrine Falcons in the Niagara gorge. Dave was told by Lou Lisi, an amateur birder and also from the fire department.
I was thrilled when I first sighted not only the birds but also the nest. It is located across the road from the building that houses the huge lights for illuminating the falls. The nest, originally thought to contain four eggs, did in fact only have three. The reddish copper coloured eggs appear to have blotches of the same colour only a shade darker, and are laid in a shallow depression of pebbles on a 12" to 18" ledge about 8 feet down from the handrail along the walkway on the west wall of the Niagara gorge.
I hurried home to contact Nadine Litwin of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation and Anne Yagi of the Ministry of Natural Resources. That evening before sundown Anne and Nadine, both biologists, were given the same exciting treat that I had earlier.
Mr. Lisi had spotted 2 eggs in the nest Wednesday April 15 and then 3 eggs on Tuesday April 21. From this Anne and Nadine estimated that the hatching would be about May 20 to May 29. Banding would probably be June 14th and the young birds would likely fledge about July 2.
Just for the "fun of it" I thought I would name the birds "Father Henny" after the franciscan friar Father Louis Hennepin who was the first white man to view the falls while exploring with LaSalle in 1679-80, and "Maid of the mist" after the legendary Indian princess chosen to go over the falls to appease the gods. [Note: The female peregrine has now been identified from her leg bands as "Amelia Earhart", hatched in 1996 in London ON. In keeping with the policy of this site, once the "original" name of a bird is learned, if there is one, then all references to the old name will be changed.]
"Fr. Henny" is a handsome male with a slate gray back with a hint of brown outlining each back feather, a gold ring around his eyes as well as the gold colour above his bill. Of course the unmistakeable, gold coloured, over-sized feet and the distinctive "black side burns" are all traits of the Peregrine. His black head has 2 or 3 white and buff coloured marks on the back of his neck area that appear to be possible scar areas. It is not down but rather actual feathers.
"Maid" is a beautiful classic Peregrine, larger than "Fr. Henny". She appears to be younger, a shade lighter gray like granite gray but still with the very slight hint of brown around each feather on her back.
Our observations are almost on a daily basis and I'll set up a spread sheet to show times and events. It was also noted that the birds were not always consistent!
A few habits or instincts did stand out, one being that "Maid" spent about 80% of the time on the nest especially on the night shift. "Fr. Henny" relieved her each morning, but his timing proved to be lacks-a-daisy. From my observations he took over the nest duties any where from 5:45 am until about 8:30 or 9:00 am. One day, May 3, he switched with "Maid" at 11:30 (approximately) and yet on another day he didn't change at all.
"Maid" being larger is able to provide more body warmth with her brooding patch. "Fr. Henny" usually settles on the eggs more to retain the heat. When the chicks hatch "Maid" will definitely be in charge of the nest and be the better parent. Some Peregrines will literally kick the "old man" out and tell him to perch on a nearby branch and only show himself at feeding time. This is indeed a task that the male Peregrines are superb at. They supply food for the female as well as the chicks.
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