By David Schout
Melbourne’s much-loved peregrine falcons at 367 Collins St have seen their chicks hatch successfully again this spring and online viewers are eagerly (and nervously) awaiting their first attempt to fly.
On October 2 the falcon parents, who for several years have lived in a man-made nest atop the CBD skyscraper, welcomed three new chicks into the world.
Now fledglings, their progress has been followed by thousands online via a 24-hour stream of the nest 34 floors up.
Popularity of the stream has grown steadily in recent years, but in a locked-down Melbourne it has boomed, with tens of thousands glued to their progress.
After the third and final egg was laid on August 29, they were incubated for 34 days before hatching.
But it is early November that’s set to be crucial for the fledglings.
After developing flight feathers at 24 to 28 days of age, they will then spend time exercising their wing muscles.
As they approach their final week in the nest, the adults will give them a none-too-subtle hint that it was time to enter the real world by reducing their food supply.
Project leader of the Victorian Peregrine Project Dr Victor Hurley said in a previous question-and-answer session on the dedicated “367 Collins Falcons” Facebook page that this was all part of the growing-up process.
“One result of this is the young actually lose weight and keep growing their flight feathers. This makes them lighter, so flying is easier. In fact, a fledgling will have longer wings than its parents. It’s a bit like having training wheels on a toddler’s bicycle,” he said.
And unlike their human counterparts who may return home after a tough initiation in the rental market, the young falcons leave the nest for good.
“Once they are ready to disperse, each goes their own way. The females tend to disperse further than the males in order to find their own nest site. This differential dispersal behaviour is common among birds and has the effect of reducing the likelihood of inbreeding.”
Less than two per cent of peregrines remain at the nest site in which they hatched to breed in future years, meaning the current adults would likely have been born elsewhere.
Both are approximately seven years old and it is believed they have been there since 2018, although this could not be confirmed without tagging.
They will continue to be together once empty nesters; bonded adult pairs, hang out together for life.
For their offspring — expected to fly around mid-November — viewers will be hoping for a happier ending than last year, when one of the chicks died on camera.
Similarly, in 2017, two chicks died after digesting what was thought to be poison from a pigeon carcass fed to it by one of its parents.
The story of the Collins St falcons goes back almost 30 years.
In 1991 the building’s owners noticed the falcons were nesting in the gutters.
Those eggs did not hatch, so Dr Hurley installed a nesting box in the exact spot to ensure the next year might be a success.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the live webcam was installed, and quickly became popular.
The Facebook page now has more than 18,000 followers.
The falcons usually nest on cliff faces, and to them the CBD likely resembles a canyon.
To watch the live stream and to learn more about Collins Street’s peregrine falcons.
For more information: 367collinsfalcons.com.au