04 May 2008

Peregrine Falcons First Nested Sixteen Years Ago in Omaha

Sixteen years ago the Peregrine Falcons began a flight to new heights when they laid the first eggs in a hack box atop the Woodmen Tower.

The nesting was the culmination of a release effort that had started in 1988.

Eastward view from the hack box location atop the Woodmen Tower.

Their introduction to a new home and nesting locale, was the result of months of meetings and fund raising necessary for an initiative that would be a soaring success.

Planning meetings for the Nebraska Peregrine Falcon Project were well underway in the late-summer of 1987, as representatives from the Audubon Society of Omaha, Fontenelle Forest Association, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and Raptor Recovery Center collaborated on bring the majestic falcons to the Omaha urban scene.

Raising the $15-20,000 needed to finance the project was the initial focus, and was enough of a success to continue with the reintroduction effort.

Each of the five birds to be released from the hack box were expected to cost at least $1500. Funds for their purchase and other project expenses were provided by the Papio Natural Resources District, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, the state income tax nongame checkoff program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and numerous donations from individuals, school classes, sportsmen clubs and other sources.

A visit to evaluate two potential release sites occurred in late autumn of 1987. The two prominent options were the Woodmen Tower and Mutual of Omaha building. The Woodmen Tower - the "best cliff in Omaha" - was the obvious choice, and once the project people agreed upon the site, things were well on their way to bring the swift falcons to the city.

The Woodmen organization was an avid supporter from the start, according to information published at the time. The Alfred G. Thomsen Company, the building's manager, was also instrumental in insuring the successful placement of the hack box on the tower roof.

A primary reason for releasing falcons at the Woodmen Tower were that the 30-story Woodmen building mimicked a natural cliff, according to Bruce Lund, a project leader, in a January 1988 article in Shavings, the newsletter of the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society. Also, "the rooftop was clear of obstructions, such as air vents and fans, which cause injury of problems for the falcons. Pigeons and starlings are also abundant, providing the falcons with a food supply. Finally, the building overlooks the Missouri River Valley which should make a good imprint on the birds for their return the following spring."

Ken Seger, of Omaha, carefully crafted the painted white, wooden hack box - about five feet wide, three-four feet high, and with a depth of four feet - which was put in place near the edge of the east side of the building's rooftop by several volunteers in latter May, 1988.

Volunteer crew preparing the hack box for placement.

Jerry Toll, Ken Seger and Mike Gilbert putting together the hack box.

Five falcons were placed in the hack box a few weeks later, then fed domestically raised quail for a several weeks to provide a reliable source of food as they grew and once fledged, learned to fly and soar above the canyons of downtown, and then to survive on their own, in the wild environs of the river valley.

In addition to hired attendants for the hack box, many people were volunteer helping with public education or willing to be an emergency contact. Each individual involved helped make the project a success.

An office window facing west at the Northwestern Bell telephone building a couple of blocks east, was used as an observation point, where the daytime attendants kept an eye on the fledgling falcons.

The goal at the time of release was to establish a self-sustaining population by 1993.

The first wild progeny were raised in 1992 by two falcons named Woody - a bird released at Woodmen in 1989 - and Windy, released at Des Moines in 1991, according to an article published in the Nebraska Bird Review.

Between May 7th and 9th, three eggs were laid in the hack box, according to the article by Rosalind Morris. Hatching took place between June 11-13.

The three chicks named Aerial, Zenith and Skywalker successfully fledged, according to records kept by project watchers whom work at the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society.

This was the first known hatching of Peregrine Falcons in eastern Nebraska. Adults and young had been noted in Dawes County, west of Fort Robinson in 1903.

The tower falcons now nest on a simple platform, still atop the best cliff in town.

During the twenty years the project has been underway at the Woodmen Tower, 46 chicks have hatched, according to the records kept by the Society personnel. A genealogy of the falcons - with identity of the birds based, when possible, on leg bands - is available at the project website.

Bruce Lund getting a falcon's eye view.

The hack box installation crew, including Bruce Lund, Ken Seger, Jim Ducey, and Jerry Toll.

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