Since 2000, Peregrine falcons have made the roof of the 42-story 101 Hudson St. building near the Jersey City waterfront their home.
The birds, among the fastest animals in the world, were considered an extinct species in New Jersey until the mid 1970s, when they were discovered in such areas as the Delaware Water Gap and the cliffs near Palisades Interstate Park in Northern New Jersey.
It may seem odd for an urban milieu such as Jersey City to become a destination for these birds of prey. But Peregrines are made for city living.
“Jersey City is the perfect place for Peregrines since the area is near water, has extremely high buildings for nesting, and offers an array of food for them, especially pigeons,” said Linn Pierson, a naturalist at Palisades Interstate Park and a longtime student and caretaker of Peregrine falcons.
Pierson is one of several volunteers who have tended to the Peregrines at 101 Hudson St. over the past six years.
In the past couple of years, the local Peregrines have won the hearts of many who can view them every day via two small web cameras set up on the 101 Hudson St. roof.
The images are accessible on the Peregrine Project Web site (http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/peregrinecam/). But by the end of this month, a nest box designed especially to house the Peregrines’ chicks is about to be replaced with new nest box fitted with a web camera.Getting to know your Peregrine
Pierson and fellow naturalists Mick Valent and Kathy Clark, of the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Non-game Species Program, have grown emotionally close to the Peregrines. But getting physically close is another matter.
“Peregrines are very territorial and do not appreciate anyone coming near their nesting area,” said Pierson. She recalled one of the few times when she had to go onto the roof to check on them.
“The female Peregrine felt threatened by this intruder coming into her space, and she started swooping down at me, coming in all directions,” said Pierson. “I try to make my visits very infrequent.”
Pierson said the falcons do not attack humans unless they sense danger.
What makes the Peregrine dangerous when they are in attack mode is their ability to go into the air and bear down on any prey at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Pierson describes it as akin to a “bullet” coming at an object.
However, the joy of seeing Peregrines comes from such sights as their mating rituals.
“The female is larger by a third over the male, so the male tries to win over the female by bringing food, bowing and scraping in front of the female, and doing all sorts of flying tricks in the air,” said Pierson. “All this is to also avoid getting killed by the female. Life as it should be.”
The mating usually takes place in March. Eggs are laid between March and April, and they hatch by May. Chicks start flying after seven weeks of nursing from the female and are then ready to leave the nest, so to speak.
Pierson and other volunteers in the Peregrine Project have seen several chicks being born at 101 Hudson St., most recently in May of last year.
It is during this time in the Peregrine chicks’ young lives that banding is performed on them. Banding is when small colored metal bands are wrapped around the chicks’ legs. The bands contain alphanumerical codes that identify where the Peregrines originate from if they are found far from home. That information is entered into a national database.
“The sad fact is, many Peregrines do not live past their first year of existence, and if they are found dead and far from home, then we want to be able to know where it came from to study migration patterns and other issues,” said Pierson.
Pierson said that Peregrines are known to live as long as up to 17 years. Clawing for affection
Pierson said she has grown pleasantly surprised over the years at how Jersey City residents have taken to the Peregrines.
“When I was asked by state officials to travel to Jersey City the first time to check on the Peregrines, I said to myself ‘Oh my God, you want to send me to Jersey City,’ ” said Pierson. “But I found the people to be so warm and loving and concerned about the Peregrines.”
Pierson recalled when a bird was found on the ground outside the Hudson Street building with a severed wing.
Several people in the area, as well Jersey City police officers, took the time to protect the injured bird until Peregrine Project volunteers came to recover it.
But a greater affection and awareness for the Peregrines have come from viewing them on the Peregrine Project Web site.
“I know basically it’s the busiest Web site on the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife page,” Pierson said. “In the really busy months, it’s somewhere around 15,000 to 30,000 hits a month.” Pierson chronicles what she views on the Web site in a section called “Nestbox News.”
Pierson said she saw the most response in May when she reported on the website that they needed donations to replace the web cameras.
“Equally special is the number of donations that we received from visitors to our site,” Pierson wrote in “Nestbox News.” ” Contributions have come in from not just New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area, but from viewers in states such as Texas, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Michigan.”
Pierson offered her own take on why people become so attached to the Peregrines.
“Peregrines are just a sight to behold,” said Pierson. “They are the epitome of everything that is wild and free.” Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org