April 11, 2005
Peregrine falcons released to the wild at
Long Marine Laboratory
For the next few weeks, visitors to UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory
will have the rare opportunity to see young peregrine falcons
learning to fly and hunt in the wild.
These young peregrine falcons
were released at Long Marine Laboratory in April 2003.
The six-week-old falcons were raised in a captive breeding
program and are now being released to the wild by the Santa
Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group (SCPBRG), which is affiliated
with the Institute of Marine Sciences and based at Long Marine
Glenn Stewart, SCPBRG program manager, said the release is
a six- to eight-week process during which the group's staff
and volunteers will be keeping an eye on the birds and providing
them with food at the release site until they are able to capture
prey on their own. In the wild, peregrine falcon parents provide
food for their young during this stage, but the young birds
do not learn their hunting skills from their parents, Stewart
"It's a completely instinctive activity. They will soon
be dominating the air space around the lab and chasing other
birds as they begin to learn pursuit skills--it's quite an impressive
aerial display to observe," he said. The three falcon siblings,
two males and a female, were five weeks old when Stewart brought
them to Long Marine Lab last week and put them in a specially-built
box (called a "hack box") set up on a third-floor
landing of the Center for Ocean Health building. Today (Monday),
Stewart will open the box to allow the birds to take their first
flights (known as fledging).
The fledglings can be a bit clumsy at first and often land
on the ground after their first flight. This is the most dangerous
time for the birds, but Long Marine Lab is a very forgiving
location, Stewart said.
"In other locations, we have to worry about coyotes or
bobcats getting them when they land on the ground. But even
here we need to make sure they get back to a safe perch before
nightfall, so we'll have people out there every daylight hour
to monitor them for the next two months," he said.
The birds have been outfitted with small radio transmitters
to enable the researchers to keep track of them during the release
process. The volunteers helping to monitor the birds at Long
Marine Lab include six student interns from UCSC and Cabrillo
College who are receiving course credits for their work with
This is the third year in a row that Long Marine Lab has served
as a release site for peregrine falcons. Stewart said the falcons
typically use the whole lab area as a home base and can often
be seen perching on the roofs of the buildings and flying overhead.
Until they begin catching their own prey, the falcons usually
return to the hack box once a day to eat the fresh quail the
attendants leave there.
SCPBRG biologists have released more than 1,000 peregrine falcons
into the wild since the 1970s, helping to bring the species
back from the brink of extinction. Their release method, known
as "hacking," is based on an old falconry technique.
A detailed description can be found on the group's
The releases at Long Marine Lab are being carried out under
a contract with Caltrans as mitigation for the potential disturbance
of nesting peregrines during seismic retrofitting work on the
San Francisco Bay Bridge and other bridges.
The SCPBRG is dedicated to the recovery of endangered predatory
birds and applies its expertise to a wide range of bird species.
The organization's work is entirely supported by foundation
grants, gifts from individuals, and contracts awarded by state
and federal agencies.
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