By Roy Little
Peregrine Falcons are well known for their acrobatic ability in the air and high speed dives to stun other flying birds, usually as prey. Not quite as well-known by the public is their long-range migration habit. “Peregrinus” means “wanderer” in Latin. In the Americas they tend to migrate north/south annually along the Pacific or Atlantic flyways.
On November 5, I photographed a Peregrine Falcon at the edge of the Kendall-Frost/Northern Wildlife Preserve in Pacific Beach at the northern side of Mission Bay.
On the bird’s left leg is a blue band with the inscription 23E (upside down). There is another band on the right leg but I could not get any information from it. After circulating the photos several experts told me to send the information to the Bird Banding Laboratory, which is run by the United States Geological Survey and is a large database and clearinghouse for all the birds banded in North America.
About a month later, I received an electronic recognition from the USGS that said this female bird was banded as a chick in August 2010 in Nunavut, Canada by Alastair Franke of Alberta. I learned that Nunavut is the newest province of Canada, much of it north of the Arctic Circle and close to Greenland. It is approximately 2,000 miles northeast of San Diego, made up of 725,000 square miles and has a population of 32,000. (By comparison, Alaska is 663,000 square miles with a population of 850,000.)
I then sent Alastair Franke an email about 23E. Franke manages a group in the University of Alberta that has been banding and tracking Peregrine Falcons for decades as part of a large Canadian conservation and research effort to study the effects of climate change on Arctic species.
The banding was done at a research site in the Sewell Peninsula, close to Baffin Island and about as remote as one can get. He was excited because this was the first record of a falcon migrating west to the Pacific from that area since they started banding in 1981.
His group had put a radio transmitter on the back of 23E’s mother and was able to track her to Cuba for the winter and then back to Northern Canada the following year, when the transmitter was removed.
He also sent photos of the chicks as they were banded in the nest.
As news spread about 23E, Glenn Stewart, director of the Predatory Bird Research Group in the University of Santa Cruz put me in touch with Shirley Doell, a volunteer who resides in the San Francisco area. Doell has been tracking 23E the last three winters in San Diego.
It turns out that 23E has been visiting the Mission Bay Yacht Club each winter. Doell has videos of the falcon but was only able to get a response from the Bird Banding Lab last year, and apparently no connection was made with Franke at the time.
Now this ad-hoc international group is making plans to find out whether 23E has become a permanent West Coast resident. This is likely to entail trapping the falcon with a net, attaching a satellite radio transmitter and tracking her for at least a year before re-trapping her to remove the transmitter.
It’ll be interesting to see if the wanderer has finally put down roots.