Audubon officials band 4 falcon chicks nesting atop city building with assist from mayor

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Mayor Joyce Craig, left, soothes one of the eyases as Chris Martin, senior raptor biologist for NH Audubon Society, bands its leg. Photo/Mel Proulx

MANCHESTER, NH  – About 30 members of the public watched from the edge of their seats Tuesday morning as New Hampshire Audubon biologist Chris Martin applied bands to the legs of four peregrine falcon chicks, also known as eyasses.

The chicks were hatched in a monitored nest on the top floor of the Brady Sullivan Tower in Manchester about three weeks ago. A fourth-grade class at Hooksett Memorial School named the chicks after indigenous trees; Poppy for Poplar, Sassy for Sassafras, Sugar for Sugar Maple and Wally for Walnut, in the order they hatched.

Baby face. Photo/Melissa Proulx

Banding them –  this is the 19th year the annual banding tradition has taken place in downtown Manchester – is done to identify the birds after they’ve grown up and flown the nest (fledged). A silver band on the right leg comes with a long serial number issued by U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, and a green-and-black band on the left leg is for photographers to capture when the birds are found in the wild.

The numbers can be used to identify the birds, allowing researchers to track their origins and age. Peregrine falcons are a federally-protected species.

Chris Martin, senior raptor biologist for NH Audubon Society, takes a closer look at one of the eyases. Photo/Melissa Proulx

Before banding them, Martin inspected each bird to determine their gender based on the size of their legs and the sound of their voice. Using a pencil as a guide, Martin said males tend to have thinner legs than their female counterparts. Though accurate about 95 percent of the time, there have been times when those banded as males turn out to be females, which they tend to discover during the nesting season, he said.

Chris Martin, left, senior raptor biologist for NH Audubon Society, prepares to band the four baby falcons, hatched atop the Brady Sullivan Tower on Elm Street, with an assist from volunteer Robert Vallieres, who has been helping Martin band baby peregrines for 24 years. Photo/Melissa Proulx

Mayor Joyce Craig and three other volunteers — Jack Dorsey, Robert Vallieres and Jane Kolias — helped hold the chicks while Martin applied the bands and cataloged the band numbers and genders. The volunteers corralled the screaming chicks and, at times, stroked their backs as they held them to help calm them.

Craig also helped Martin remove and crate the chicks at the top floor.

Like tiny abominable snowmen, only they’re birds. With beaks. Photo/Melissa Proulx

It was believed the first to be banded was the first chick to hatch, and the second was the youngest, but the clear identities of middle-chicks Sugar and Sassy are anyone’s guess as their birth order is unknown. Martin did determine there were two females and two males.

  • (1st) Female: “Poppy”
    • Color band: Black Green 86 BV
  • (2nd) Male: “Wally”
    • Color band: Black Green 57 BS
  • (3rd) Male: “Sugar” or “Sassy”
    • Color band: Black Green 58 BS
  • (4th) Female: “Sugar” or “Sassy”
    • Color band: Black Green 87 BB
Senior raptor biologist for NH Audubon Society, Chris Martin, greets one of the baby falcons, also known as eyases. Photo/Melissa Proulx

Martin said peregrines are still fairly rare, so it’s a treat to be able to observe them so closely.

“We only have 25 of the peregrines in the state,” Martin said. “Most are in very remote locations – not in places like this.”

The nest on the Brady Sullivan Tower has produced 54 successfully-fledged falcons, each banded by Audubon.

“This will be the 55th to the 58th young chick that we’ve banded,” Martin said.

Huddle: Baby falcons await banding. Photo/Melissa Proulx

He said about eight to 10 chicks born there have been located breeding elsewhere. More than 25 percent of the state’s peregrine falcons nest in man-made structures, like buildings, bridges and quarry walls.

“None of our banded chicks have ended up nesting here, which is interesting,” Martin said.

The breeding pairs have had a lot of success at this location, with an average of three young hatched per year.

“Which is very good for peregrines,” Martin said.

Papa falcon, left, guards his brood from the air as the babies are put back after the banding. Photo/Melissa Proulx

He said this is the third female parent and second male parent to take up residence in the Manchester nest. The birds mate for life, usually laying their eggs around the end of March and the beginning of April.

People from all over the world watch the falcons hatch, grow, feed and fledge through high-definition cameras linked to a live stream available on YouTube with the technical assistance of Bedford tech firm Single Digits.

I want my babies back, babies back, babies back… Photo/Melissa Proulx

After the live banding, which was also streamed and recorded, Martin restored the chicks to the nest, taking the opportunity to wash the camera lenses and two-way mirrors. Martin said he likely won’t return to the nest until the next group hatches unless one of the eyasses is injured, once fledging begins.

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Contrary to common belief, parents of chicks will not abandon them after being touched by human hands. In fact, the parents, while understandably upset during the absence of their eyasses, fed them again by 2 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after they were returned to the nest. The banding process took about an hour.

WATCH: Live-action video from Tuesday’s banding by Ryan Lessard