Published May 05, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pair of peregrine falcons take repose in front of camera

New webcams are documenting the nesting activity of peregrine falcons on Minnesota Power’s Hibbard Renewable Energy Center.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

Falconcams are on the job, high above the St. Louis River on Minnesota Power’s Hibbard Renewable Energy Center.

Two new cameras, placed in early March, are tracking the nesting activity of two peregrine falcon adults as they tend their clutch of eggs. Visitors to Minnesota Power’s website, www.mnpower.com, can watch the falcon pair and eventually their chicks, which are expected to hatch in mid- to late May.

“There’s a bird on eggs, but I don’t know how many eggs there are,” said Julie O’Connor, a naturalist at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

It appears from a webcam image that the falcons have three eggs in the nest.

Minnesota Power placed the cameras in the nesting box 254 feet above ground on the stack at the Hibbard plant. The company has another Falconcam at its Boswell station near Grand Rapids. Images from that camera, too, can be seen at the company’s website.

“This is just an extension of the partnership we’ve had with the Raptor Resource Project (based in Iowa), where they band birds at both places,” said Amy Rutledge, communications manager at Minnesota Power.

The Raptor Resource Project has been instrumental in re-establishing peregrine falcons in the Upper Midwest after the population plummeted in the 1950s and 1960s due to use of DDT in the environment.

The male falcon at the Hibbard site, near the Bong Bridge, is thought to be about 15 years old, O’Connor said. Last year, his female mate injured a wing. She was taken to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul but had to be euthanized. The male subsequently was seen with a yearling female. That site produced no chicks last year.

This year the male, who originally nested on the Bong Bridge, is back with the same female he was with last year, O’Connor said. That bird is now 2.

Peregrine falcons typically lay eggs between April 15 and 25, O’Connor said. They incubate the eggs for 34 to 37 days. The male does some of the incubating, and when he’s not on the eggs, he brings food back to the female, O’Connor said.

Falcons usually have two to five eggs. A higher number of eggs indicates that food is plentiful in the area. Peregrine falcons eat birds taken in flight, plus the occasional rodent or bat.

Two other pairs of peregrine falcons are known to be nesting in the Duluth area, one pair on the General Mills elevator and another pair on the Greysolon Plaza Hotel, O’Connor said.

The cameras at the Hibbard site take a picture every minute and replay a sequence of photos from the previous 24 hours, Rutledge said.

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