A falcon recruited in solving a mystery
Tiny gizmo to track flight of a peregrine, learn where it travels
June 12, 2004
By Greg Livadas
Staff writer, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Armed with protective brooms, hard hats and a net, a team of environmentalists borrowed a young peregrine falcon from its nest box atop the Eastman Kodak Co. headquarters Friday despite the very vocal objections of its protective parents, who swooped at the invaders.
Their mission: to place a custom-made neoprene harness on the young bird and install a tiny transmitter to help researchers study the migratory patterns of peregrines.
”We have very little idea where these birds travel,” said Sean Hanna, area director for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Peregrines, considered an endangered species in New York, are slowly growing in numbers. Last year, 88 peregrines, including five others born at Kodak, were hatched in New York. “Now that they’re back, we still don’t know where they’re going.”
The tiny solar-powered transmitter is expected to send a signal to a satellite, which will provide the location of the bird for the next two or three years. After that, the transmitter will stop working and the thread used to fasten the harness is expected to disintegrate, allowing the harness to fall free of the bird.
With the skill of a surgeon, Mark Nash of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation sewed and glued the little harness on the back of Hafoc, one of five peregrines to hatch at Kodak this year.
A hood covered the bird’s head, which seemed to keep it quiet as it rested on a fluffy towel while the work was being done. Michael Allen, a wildlife technician for the DEC, and Kenn Martinez, a senior software designer for Kodak, held its sharp talons.
Although the three females born this year are larger, the DEC chose to have the largest male carry the transmitter to get more data on male migration. This is the 47th bird Nash has outfitted with a transmitter; the vast majority have been females, he said. Some have been tracked to Argentina.
There have been 26 peregrines hatched in the Kodak nest box since 1998. The only other falcon to have a transmitter affixed was Mary Ann, in 2000. Her signal lasted only a few weeks before it was lost in Bloomfield, Ontario County. The bird was never seen again.
Officials say peregrines have a 50 to 70 percent mortality rate in their first year.
Nash said the harness and transmitter weigh a total of 21 grams, or about two-thirds of one ounce. It’s important to fit the harness before the bird starts to fly so it will learn to fly with it on, he said. The five little peregrines are expected to begin flying in two to three weeks.
The public may see where Hafoc’s transmitting signal is in the near future through a link at Kodak.com.
Nearly $10,000 was donated to help pay for the transmitter and its monitoring, said June Summers, president of the Genesee Valley Audubon Society, who worked with the Migration Research Foundation in Canada and Kodak to see the project happen. The DEC donated the transmitter; remaining donations will be used for similar projects next year, Summers said.
Most of the donations came from viewers of the popular Kodak birdcam and its lively discussion board. Donations were even sent in by schoolchildren.
Nash, of Toronto, said he visits peregrines throughout the United States and Canada, but those at Kodak are the most famous because of the cameras focused on the nest box each year.
”Your birds are being viewed globally by scientists, biologists, foreign governments,” Nash said. “They get to see this reintroduction of a species that was on its way out. This is high-tech at its best.”
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