Kansas City, Mo. – Kansas City's downtown hosts peregrine falcons that can dive at more than 200 mph when full grown. But their new generations start life as fragile chicks pecking out of an egg in a nest on a ledge near the top of the 30-story Commerce Tower. Now, the drama of life renewing in a falcon nest amid the skyscrapers can be watched live on streaming video via the web at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/21769.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is providing the falcon watch camera. This web cam peeks in at the state’s oldest and most successful nest site for peregrine falcon restoration. Peregrine falcons, originally cliff nesting raptors, are endangered in Missouri. Young birds were first released in 1991 at Commerce Tower, 911 Main St., and releases in subsequent years followed. Some released falcons dispersed to other cities. But a few returned to Commerce Tower. Biologists recorded the first successful nest there in 1997. Since then, various pairs of parents have used the nest. More than 30 young falcons have fledged or flown from the ledge.
A female falcon is currently incubating four eggs, which are brown with speckles. On Wednesday, April 17, the web cam showed her sitting on the eggs to shelter them from cold rain. Sometimes she turns to face a new direction in the nest. At times the scene appears like a still photo, until you notice her tilting her head or the wind ruffling feathers.
“This is the third year for this female on this nest,” said Joe DeBold, an urban wildlife biologist for MDC. “To our knowledge she is a wild bird. Most likely, the male attracted her and brought her to this nest.”
The male is always near the nest and will bring food to the female. Falcons feed on pigeons downtown or on other birds and they frequently soar over the nearby Missouri River in search of food.
“The male will even sit on the eggs and let the female go out and get some exercise before the eggs hatch,” DeBold said.
A camera is mounted on the edge of the building roof and focused down on the nest. The nest site and falcon web cam are a partnership between MDC and NAI Capital Realty, which manages the building. The building tenants and owners have long been a helpful partner to MDC in peregrine falcon restoration.
Watching falcons flying or hunting for pigeons has been a pastime for workers in downtown offices since the falcon restoration began. Now, those workers and people around the world will also be able to watch the nest and how life unfolds for young peregrines.
DeBold expects the eggs to hatch in mid-May. Parents will then be bringing food to the chicks. As days pass, the chicks will grow and began walking around the square, composite-material box that serves as a nest. Gravel lines the bottom of the box to mimic rock found on cliffs. If the young falcons survive, they could fledge or fly from the nest in early summer.
The Commerce Tower site has been successful because it offers good shelter and nearby food sources, he said. A wall above the north-facing ledge provides shade from hot summer sun and wind protection. Parents find food abundant from pigeons near buildings to waterfowl on the river. They will also catch ground-dwelling critters such as voles.
MDC staff also monitors four other peregrine falcon nest sites in the metro area. There is one near the Country Club Plaza and three nests on smokestacks at Kansas City Power & Light Co. generating plants. But the Commerce Tower nest site has been the most successful.
Peregrine falcons originally nested in limited numbers on high outcrops such as ledges in the Missouri River bluffs. Numbers nationwide declined drastically after World War II as the DDT pesticide weakened egg shells and harmed reproduction. The ban on DDT and restoration efforts enabled peregrine falcons to be taken off the national endangered species list in 1999. But they remain endangered and in low numbers in some states including Missouri.
For more information on peregrine falcons in Missouri go to mdc.mo.gov. Also, a taxidermy mount of a peregrine falcon, information about falcon ecology and a model of a nest box used for restoration are on display at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center at 4750 Troost Ave. in Kansas City.