Iatan falcon finds new home in downtown KC

Kansas City, Mo. — Peregrine falcons once dive-bombed Ulises Perez and Joaquin Sosa as they dangled among Kansas City’s downtown skyscrapers as professional window washers. So, they know falcons perch and fly in high places. On June 14, they paid falcons a friendly visit in an assist to conservation. Sosa stepped off the top of 30-story Commerce Tower and Perez lowered him on a rope seat to a historic falcon nest site.

For the first time, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologists put identification bands on all the falcon chicks hatched at the Commerce Tower nest. Prior, they only banded the occasional young bird from that nest if it happened to tire during first flight and landed exhausted on the sidewalk below. A nest box on a ledge two stories below the roof had been too inaccessible to biologists, until Perez and Sosa used their window washing techniques to reach the nest. Sosa put the chicks in a bucket and biologists hoisted them up to the rooftop, banded them in a quiet room, and then Sosa put them back in the nest box.

“He got nervous,” Perez said, interpreting for Sosa. “He thought the big birds (parents) might want to hit him.”

 MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION PHOTO Hugh Key, left, an intern with USDA Wildlife Services, holds a young peregrine falcon as Joe DeBold, MDC urban wildlife biologist, attaches an identification leg tag at Commerce Tower in downtown Kansas City on June 14. Leg tags helped DeBold identify the female parent as a bird he banded in 2015 at the Iatan Power Plant in the Weston area.

MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION PHOTO
Hugh Key, left, an intern with USDA Wildlife Services, holds a young peregrine falcon as Joe DeBold, MDC urban wildlife biologist, attaches an identification leg tag at Commerce Tower in downtown Kansas City on June 14. Leg tags helped DeBold identify the female parent as a bird he banded in 2015 at the Iatan Power Plant in the Weston area.

The parents flew about and squawked but did not dive bomb the banding crew. In the end, the youngsters were back in the nests with bands that may tell biologists future stories about their travels.

Leg bands help biologists track falcon population numbers and movement. For this parental pair, the male did not have a leg band, but the female did and biologists were able to read the number.

“The female is a bird we banded at Iatan (Power Plant) in 2015,” said Joe DeBold, MDC urban wildlife biologist. “She’s actually a local bird that has taken over this nest at Commerce Tower.”

MDC first released young falcons on the Commerce Tower roof in 1991 and 1992. Peregrines are acrobatic flyers, cliff nesting birds originally, that can dive at up to 200 mph to snatch food. They are endangered in Missouri. Biologists hoped they would use the downtown skyscrapers like cliff ledges and begin feeding on nuisance birds such as pigeons.

The falcons have cooperated. The first successful nest in the Kansas City area occurred in 1997. Since then, other nest boxes have been placed on the sides of power plant smokestacks or on the upper ledges of tall buildings. Those efforts, along with elimination of the pesticide DDT that weakened egg shells, have helped the fast-flying raptors rebound in Kansas City and other metro areas in the Midwest.

MDC biologists banded 22 peregrine falcon chicks this spring at six locations in the Kansas City area. Also, biologists are monitoring a new nest in the city. They are also keeping track of a nest site successful in the past in mid-Missouri that weather may have harmed this year. The falcon program is a partnership between MDC, USDA Wildlife Services, and private businesses.

For more information, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZqA.