Flying lessons are next  for these falcon chicks

By David Schout

After hatching in early October, Melbourne’s most-watched chicks are getting ready to start their own lives.

Three peregrine falcon hatchlings emerged in the volunteer-made nest atop 367 Collins St – a moment watched by thousands on the 24-hour webcam funded by developer Mirvac.

The parents are doing fine, kept busy by the hungry demands of their chicks and are preparing for life as empty nesters.

A fourth egg the female was incubating failed to hatch.

Unlike last October – where two chicks died after digesting what was thought to be poison from a pigeon carcass – the fledglings appear to be healthy.

Since 2016, the online webcam has attracted many viewers – from bird watchers to those generally curious of the falcons’ movements. 

Interest has boomed, with a dedicated Facebook page growing from 200 members to almost 3000 in two months.

The interest prompted page administrator Leigh Stillard to run a question-and-answer with the leader of the Victorian Peregrine Program, Dr Victor Hurley.

In it, Dr Hurley provided insight on a breed he has studied for decades, including the question on everyone’s lips: what next?

“Flight feathers start from 24 to 28 days of age,” Dr Hurley informed.

“You’ll start to see the black flight feathers poking down at that stage, and from then on they spend a lot of time exercising their wing muscles.”

Others respondents were worried about the safety of the chicks learning to fly atop the 33-floor building, but Dr Hurley said they are accustomed to flying in precarious positions.

“As their feathers grow the young will increasingly practise stretching and flapping their wings. Also, as they approach their final week in the nest, the adults start to reduce the food supply,” he said.

“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.”

Once they can fly, the chicks go their own way.

“Generally the young only stay together while dependent upon the adults at the nest site,” Dr Hurley said.

“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.”

Unlike their human counterparts who may return home after a tough initiation in the rental market, falcons leave home for good.

“Less than 2 per cent of peregrines remain at the nest site in which they were hatched to breed there in future years. It’s really rare to see it happen,” Dr Hurley said.

Dr Hurley said he admired the peregrines’ “single-minded focus” on all aspects of life including hunting and grooming and their ability to adapt to urban surroundings that include overhead wires and mirrored windows.

“To them, the CBD is a canyon full of cliff faces,” he said.

Dr Hurley said that both males and females lived on average four years, with the longest on record being 15 years.

The peregrines breed each year after the age of two, provided they have a partner and a nest.

He said survey results over a number of years recorded 250 pairs of breeding Victorian peregrines, and he estimates the population at 800-1000 pairs “at the absolute maximum”.

To see the young falcons in (hopefully) full-flight, go to 367collinsfalcons.com.au

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