Peregrine Falcons at UC Davis Medical Center
Updated June 26, 2020
It’s empty-nester time at the falcon family crib at UC Davis Medical Center. The four remaining fledglings are still seen intermittently around hospital. The kids are mostly on their own now and usually roost not far from the nest on the main hospital tower.
2020 was the most successful year ever for the falcon parents. They had a record-setting five hatchlings – 3 females and 2 males – in late April.
The youngest, dubbed “Peanut,” was born five days after the first peregrine chick. Despite being small, Peanut proved a determined falcon. He showed peregrine viewers that he could work hard to keep up with his bigger siblings.
By the beginning of June, Peanut and his brother and sisters were leaving the nest and learning to fly.
Bill Corbett, UC Davis Health’s volunteer falconer, participated in a discussion about these special raptors with another peregrine expert, retired UC Davis veterinarian William Ferrier.
Photo courtesy: James Holmes, M.D.
Learning to fly is risky
Unfortunately, one of the females suffered serious injuries during her early days of flight practice. She likely collided with a building, which is not unusual for birds in an urban environment.
The injured chick was taken to the Small Animal Clinic at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The school’s avian specialists diagnosed a broken wing and shock. The young bird could not be treated and had to be euthanized.
To the left, the remaining peregrine youngsters are seen in mid-June roosting together above their nest.
A nurturing environment
Well into June the peregrine parents were still watching over the other kids, providing food while the youngsters learned to hunt on their own. The mother peregrine can still be seen very early in the mornings on the ledge beside her nest, eyeing the buildings and sky as her children continue to grow and venture further from the medical center.
The surrounding neighborhoods and Sacramento region offer good food opportunities and habitat as the youngsters mature and begin to live entirely on their own.
A look back at Season 1
Since at least 2015, a pair of peregrines has made their home at the medical center. Their nest is located a safe distance from the hospital’s busy helipad.
Last year (2019) proved very successful for the falcons as the parents welcomed four youngsters. Livestream watchers enjoyed peregrine activities until mid-June, when the birds left the nest. Get the recap from Keeping Up With the Peregrines: Season 1.
About the Peregrine Falcon
The peregrine falcon was previously on the federal list of Endangered Species and was one of the first birds to be placed on California's Endangered Species List. The raptor was removed from the federal list in 1999, thanks to effort by The Peregrine Fund and others. The ban of DDT in 1972 across the U.S. also helped the species recover, leading to its removal from the state Endangered Species List in 2009.
Experts estimate the first-year survival rate for the chicks will be about 50%, as urban falcons face hazards such as injury, illness, and predators. The young birds typically begin flying away from the nest at the medical center sometime in mid-June. Experts say the birds usually stay in the area an additional month while their parents continue to feed them and encourage them to hunt.
Here are a few other facts about peregrine falcons:
- Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
- Body length: 13-20 in (33-50 cm)
- Wingspan: 31-48 in (78-122 cm)
- Weight: 1 to 3.5 lbs (0.4-1.5 kg)
- Like many raptors, peregrine falcon females are larger than males.
- Peregrine falcons can hit top speeds in flight of 200 mph and are considered the fastest animal on earth.
- Peregrines don't build typical nests like other birds, but instead lay eggs in a shallow indentation on the edge of a high cliff or other man-made structure, like a building or bridge.
- Baby peregrine falcons can start flying at 43 to 44 days old.
- Peregrines typically prey on small- to medium-sized birds, like songbirds, ducks, doves and pigeons. They are also known to feed on small reptiles, mammals and bats.