Hondo and Deborah, two peregrine falcons, the fastest birds on the planet striking their prey at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour, have been living at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Gruenhagen Conference Center since January.
Both peregrines can be seen coming and going from their nesting site, having meals, overlooking the city of Oshkosh and laying eggs through the University’s live webcam. In addition to the live feed, the webcam is taking thumbnails every two to three seconds and are available for viewing on the Live Falcon Feed website.
Sighting peregrines on campus
In January, former UWO faculty member Neil Harriman received several reports of a peregrine perched on a ledge of the south tower of GCC. Harriman contacted the University and Greg Septon, a peregrine specialist, about the sighting. Custodial Services Supervisor Dawn Dettlaff is currently overseeing safety of the peregrines as well as monitoring their development through the webcam. She explained how she became aware of the two falcons living on campus.
“I got the news from Chuck Hermes, who is the superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at UW Oshkosh,” Dettlaff said. “I have a MS in experimental psychology, and my background is in animal observation. I took some photos of the birds and forwarded them to Greg who confirmed it as a peregrine.”
Septon worked closely with Jim Luther, the crafts worker supervisor at UW Oshkosh, and began constructing and mounting a nesting box on the roof of GCC. Director of Residence Life Tom Fojtik agreed to support the webcam, and the box was installed on March 8.
“I was a little nervous after the box was installed because with all the activity on the roof, I did not see the male peregrine frequent the building over the next three weeks,” Dettlaff explained. “However, sometime during the first weekend in April, he began entering the box. Shortly thereafter, the female joined him.”
The group identified the male as Hondo, who was banded in June 2008 at WPL Edgewater Generating Station in Sheboygan. They also identified the female to be Deborah, who was banded in May 2009 at Evanston Library in Evanston, Ill.
When asked about the safety of the peregrines and their eggs, Dettlaff explained that there is limited access to the area and preventative measures have been taken.
“During their courtship and nesting periods, we are limiting access to the South GCC roof area. Any preventative maintenance and roof inspections will be conducted after the young leave the nest,” Dettlaff said. “As of April 18, there is one egg in the nest which is a good sign they are comfortable with the site.”
History of peregrines in Wisconsin and at UW Oshkosh
In 1988, two captive peregrines became the first pair to nest in the state since their extirpation due to the rapid spread of the insecticide DDT in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Since then, the recovery efforts have continued throughout Wisconsin.
Although UW Oshkosh has not previously recorded data on peregrines at the University, there have been sightings in the Oshkosh area.
Septon, who has spent 24 years monitoring the peregrine falcon population in eastern Wisconsin, explained that the peregrines will be on campus at least through the nesting season and could eventually become permanent residents of the campus community.
“These peregrines may become residents and be present year round,” Septon said. “Some peregrines migrate, some stay depending on the site, shelter from the elements and winter prey availability.”
He also explained that by creating a nesting box on campus, UW Oshkosh is providing a safe place for the two peregrines to nest. Plus, there are many benefits to having the peregrines living on campus.
“Without constructing or installing the nesting box, the peregrines would have no safe place to nest on campus. Although this is not the reason to accommodate peregrines, their presence may help keep some of the gulls off nearby rooftops.
“By providing a nest box for the peregrines, UWO has joined about two dozen other urban nest sites in Wisconsin—all of which help provide homes for this state’s endangered species.”