June 12, 2014
Peregrine Falcon nestling gets a chunk of dove
Peregrine Falcon nestling gets a chunk of dove

The valley is bathed in dawn light, though the sun has not yet cleared the pinnacles of Stewart Mountain to the northeast.  It is 5:30am, a beautiful time of calm and quiet along this overused river at the intersection of urban sprawl and national forest.  The female, ever the good mother, is on her favored rock promontory above and to the left of the eyrie, visible to the naked eye if one knows where to look but, not having been here for a month, I lift my binoculars first to the eyrie itself.  Relief and delight vie for primary emotion.  There is one dirty white fuzzball on the floor of the eyrie.

I search down the cliff face, toward the coming sun, for the male but do not see him on any of the pair’s usual ledges, all well signed with whitewash.  We are less than a month short of the calendar’s longest day.  It will be just a few hours until the low desert heat becomes unbearable in the sun and the river corridor itself becomes clogged with alcohol fueled revelers who won’t distinguish a Peregrine’s cry from the shrieks of their drunken companions. 

I hear him before I see him, hear the shrill, insistent contact calls just before he sweeps through my peripheral vision, lifts up the cliff face past the eyrie, and lands softly at the side of his mate.  He drops the offering at her feet, seeming to bow in deference in her direction, but I know now of course that he is “the man.”  The living proof is the little fifty gram package of muscle and bone covered with dirty white down sitting on the eyrie floor.  Though he is unable to see his parents around the corner of his rocky home, you can bet he has heard them, senses their presence, and knows breakfast is coming.

Following up on my May 15 column (jimburnsphotos.com/pages/5-15-14.html) suggesting the unlikelihood of a successful pairing between an older, experienced female Peregrine and a yearling male, possibly her own offspring of the preceding year, (“yearling” being the important qualifier here, not “her own offspring”) I’m ecstatic to report the nestling’s presence in the eyrie.  On May 15 I was only hoping and guessing she was sitting on eggs.

The adults linger there on the wall together for some minutes, high above the bright water, bonding in some way unrealized and unsuspected by human experience, then she flies off with his gift in her talons, somewhat surprisingly bypassing the mouth of the eyrie, and wings off down the cliff face to one of the whitewashed ledges.  Based on the habitat and a momentary binocular look as she passes, I guess the prey item to be a White-winged Dove.  Can a bird most decidedly dead and in the talons of a passing predator exhibit “giss?”

The sun has topped the eastern parapets now, and the desert’s heat is rising palpably, but the three falcons are all in shade provided variously by the curvature of the cliff face, the position of rock outcroppings and, in the case of the nestling, the depth of the eyrie grotto itself.  I grow concerned as the female sits with the dove, unmoving for perhaps half an hour, but finally she begins to pick at it, feeding herself before her nestling.  The instinct that the provider must be strong for the young is to survive is alive and well in this experienced mother.

Apparently satiated for the moment, she suddenly launches for the eyrie with dove remains in talon, lands next to the nestling, and begins pulling morsels from the carcass and feeding her chick, beak to beak.  The young father preens on his lookout.  Two kayaks glide silently by, unsuspecting of the family affairs taking place high above them.  Noisy river hordes will soon follow, but I know this breeding was successful.  I’m out.