Life in the fast lane

Rare birds nesting on
Milton-Madison bridge present
unique challenge for crews

There are only eight pairs
of Peregrine falcons in Kentucky

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(May 2009) – When Asa Crane migrated to this area, he scouted for the perfect spot to make a home and landed, literally, on the Milton-Madison Bridge across the Ohio River. Asa and his partner are Peregrine Falcons, a rare species that at one point was on the federal Endangered Species List.

Asa Crane

Photo provided

Asa Crane nests with his mate
on the Milton-Madison Bridge.

Since 2003, the pair has made their nest on the bridge. Recently, when geotechnical crews from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet were testing the bridge piers for a possible superstructure replacement, they carefully maneuvered around the birds in an effort to not disturb them.
“We worked with the transportation crew to help them avoid disturbing the birds during their nesting,” said Kathryn Heyden, an avian biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “While the Peregrine Falcons are no longer on the endangered list, they are still protected by the National Migratory Bird Treaty Act and it is illegal to destroy their nests.”
Powerful and fast-flying, the Peregrine Falcon, about the size of a large crow, hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. Virtually exterminated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century, restoration efforts have made it a regular, if still uncommon sight in many large cities.
Technicians working on the bridge found the nest in the same spot it has been in every year since the birds perched there. This year, Heyden set up a box for them on a pier, and they moved right into it. She said technically, the birds live in Kentucky and are among only eight known pairs in the entire state. Indiana has several more pairs of nesting falcons than that.
The falcon couple is currently incubating several eggs. The fledgling birds will stick around the nest until July or August and then be totally on their own. Repairs to the bridge are slated to begin sometime after the fledglings fly the coop.
Before the baby birds get big enough to leave their parents, Heyden said they will be banded so they can be tracked for further research. Once banded, they are often named. “The reason Asa Crane’s partner doesn’t have a name is because we haven’t been able to band her,” said Heyden. “We believe she is the same mate he has always had, as they usually partner for life, but we just don’t know for sure.”

Kathryn Heyden

Photo provided

Avian biologist
Kathryn Heyden,
with the Kentucky Department of
Fish and Wildlife
Resources, holds a
young bird of prey.

Volunteers in the community keep a watchful eye on the family for wildlife officials.
“Because they were wiped out in this part of the country, it’s a very big deal to have this pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting on our bridge,” said Kelly Misamore, a naturalist for more than 25 years and owner of The Birdhouse, 108 E. Main St. “It’s like having a rock star or celebrity here.”
Dan Matiatos, a biologist at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, said lots of people are interested in the birds and go down to watch them. “This situation is just not really common,” he said. “The birds were on the brink of extinction, and now there is a breeding pair living in the community. It’s a unique situation.”
Dick Davis, park naturalist for Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Ind., said in the wild, the falcons nest on the edge of cliffs. “The bridge is a good replicate of a natural site. In larger cities, the birds are being successfully re-introduced and have made their home on the edges of skyscrapers.”
Although Asa Crane and his mate have been in the area for several years and have had two to four fledglings make it each year, no known offspring of the couple have set up their own nests in the area.
Davis said it is because, while Clifty Falls State Park has the appropriate landscape, one of the major predators of the falcons, the Great Horned Owl, is common throughout the area. There are Great Horned Owls known to live in the park.
“They prey upon young Peregrine Falcons in their nest,” he said. “The bridge is a safe place for the pair because Great Horned Owls are not likely to be out roaming around near it.”

Back to May 2009 Articles.



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