Voyeuristic urban nature lovers can spend the summer spying on peregrine falcons as they mature from adorable fluffy chicks into fearsome predators, thanks to Missouri Department of Conservation cameras installed near their nests.
Those nests are in unnatural places: at the Commerce Tower in downtown Kansas City and the American Century Investments building near the Country Club Plaza, and atop the smokestacks at KCP&L's Iatan and Hawthorne power plants near the Missouri River and its Sibley Power Plant in Eastern Jackson County.
But the MDC says putting nests on skyscrapers and power plant smokestacks actually helps the birds, which originally nested on cliffs until after World War II and the use of DDT interfered with their reproduction.
Though the falcons are on the state's endangered species list, there are now 12 active pairs of adults in the state, says Joe DeBold, an urban wildlife biologist with the Missouri Conservation Department and the falcon recovery leader for the state.
"Each location has its own story," DeBold says. "The longest-running nest is Commerce Tower, where we began hacking – that's a term for reintroducing birds artificially, putting chicks up there, manually feeding them, taking care of them, rearing them, basically it’s human exposure to chicks constantly in hopes of establishing a natural breeding location, which we did. That hacking took place in 1991 and 1992 on Commerce Tower, and since that time we’ve had an active pair at that location every year."
On the roof of the American Century building on Main Street near the Plaza, a pair of falcons built a nest on the roof around 2010, but because of the inhospitable conditions, where chicks were exposed to the sun all the time, they "didn't have success in getting the chicks to survive," DeBold says.
After his team built a nesting box there, the falcons "took to it" and have had "excellent survival rates," he says. The female who is nesting there is 14 years old, he says, which is "getting up there" in a falcon's life span.
On Thursday, DeBold and other MDC biologists pulled newborns from their nests and banded them. And with cameras trained on the nests at the Iatan plant and on the Plaza, anyone with access to a computer can watch them "moving around the nest, napping and eating" (at KCUR, we have seen them mostly napping).
Like all young ones, they grow up too soon. By the end of the summer, the MDC writes in a news release, they'll be "soaring like their fast-flying parents and dive bombing small birds for food."
Specifically, they'll be looking for pigeons, which is one reason the urban nesting program works so well.
"All of these partners are working towards the same goal," DeBold says of the MDC, KCP&L and the other building owners. "We all have the same issues with pigeons. So you bring the falcon in as a biological tool, and the falcon will eat pigeons for most of their diet, so you have a symbiotic relationship between the partners and the falcons, using the falcons to help clean up the pigeon mess while also bringing back a species once native to Missouri and getting it off the endangered species list."
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.