City Scientist Climbs to the Top of Bridges to Inspect New Falcon Chicks
NEW YORK CITY — A few weeks ago, six peregrine falcon chicks hammered away inside their eggs, not knowing what lay beyond their shells.
When they finally broke through, they found themselves several hundred feet above the earth, enclosed in wooden boxes atop two bridges in New York City.
Not long after, a strange creature arrived — Chris Nadareski, a scientist with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection — who stuck his hand in each box, grabbed the birds one by one, peered down their throats and under their wings and attached aluminum bands to their feet.
Naturally, the chicks cried and squirmed in his fingers. Overhead, a wary mother falcon is seen circling, ready to attack.
Nadareski inspects and bands the new falcons at three bridges each year through a partnership between the DEP, the MTA and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which is charged with protecting the falcons since they are on New York's endangered species list.
The marked bands help scientists track the birds, and also return the young to their nests if they become separated from their parents.
This year, Nadareski banded two females and one male falcon chick atop a 360-feet-high tower over the Bronx end of the Throgs Neck Bridge.
He banded another two males and a female atop a 215-feet-high tower on the Rockaway Peninsula side of the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.
No new birds were found this year above the third bridge known to house peregrine falcons, the Verrazano-Narrows.
After a brush with near-extinction in the 1960s (their prey had been eating toxic pesticides), two peregrine falcon pairs returned to the state to breed in 1983 — atop these bridges.
Since then, more than 2,000 young have hatched statewide and pairs, which mate for life, have settled at 119 different locations, according to the DEC’s latest falcon report.
The city-dwelling falcons are drawn to bridges, skyscrapers and church steeples partly because they offer clear views of passing prey — pigeons, blackbirds, blue jays and any of the other 75 bird species that the urban falcons have been known to eat.
True New Yorkers, the falcons tend to stay put when they find real estate with a great view.
Scientists build wooden nest boxes with gravel floors for the birds to prevent the eggs from falling and the parents from attacking humans who must sometimes work on the bridges and buildings.
This is no idle threat — peregrine falcons can descend on their prey at speeds of more than 200 mph.
In fact, they have occasionally dived at Nadareski in the past during his annual inspections and sliced him with their talons, according to the DEP website.
“Undaunted, [Nadareski] will finish the banding and monitor the nest from a distance,” the website says.
Eventually, the website continues, the young falcons will learn to fly and the mothers will lay new eggs “and start the cycle over again.”