2008-06-06 / Community

Falcon Chicks Debut At Marine Parkway Bridge

The Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.
Newborn Peregrine falcon chicks spent their first hours in a cozy nest, atop the south tower on the Queens side of the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.

For several years running, the same female falcon and her mate have nested and raised chicks at the seaside crossing. "We are very careful to let nature take its course and leave the nest undisturbed," said John Ryder, general manager for the Marine Parkway and the Cross Bay Bridges. "The falcons keep coming back here to nest so they must find our bridge very hospitable!"

Several years ago when members of the maintenance crew first took note of the falcons, they set up a box in a small platform on the tower, which the falcons have since turned into a well appointed nest.

When the falcons returned earlier this spring, Bridge Maintenance Superintendent Carlton Cyrus, along with a wildlife biologist and a falcon expert representing NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, ascended the 218-foot tower to check on the nest and see whether any eggs or newborns were in residence. They were greeted by the sight of two chicks, just days old.

Days-old Peregrine falcon chicks huddle in nest atop the south tower of the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.
The chicks will grow quickly - especially their sharp claws. By the time the birds are three-weeks old, their talons will have grown to the size of those of an adult falcon (nearly as large as an adult human hand). The chicks will soon eat about four or five times a day, and their diet consists of small birds caught by their mother.

In coming weeks they will begin to practice flying around their perch atop the tower but will remain dependent on their mother for protection and food for another eight weeks. The father falcon remains on the scene to help his mate by gathering food, but has a less prominent role in parenting than the larger (by 30 percent) and more aggressive female who guards the nest. Peregrine falcons, an endangered species as recently as 1999, have a lifespan of up to 20 years.

City-based falcons seem to like building nests atop bridges, church steeples and high-rise buildings, since they historically live on high cliffs where they can spy prey and have open space to hunt.

Mother falcon guards her newborns nesting nearby
Agency personnel take numerous precautions and avoid working near nests during mating season (February to March), and work closely with wildlife professionals on efforts such as identification tagging.

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