The peregrine falcon breeding season has begun! Courtship and pair bonding begin in February, and DGIF’s Richmond Falcon Cam, sponsored by Comcast Business, goes live on March 1. With these events upon us, we take a look back to pay tribute to the falcon pair that has nested in Virginia’s capital city for the past 15 years.
The famous Richmond pair has nested atop various downtown Richmond skyscrapers as well as the Lee Bridge. This nesting behavior is typical of peregrine falcons, which in Virginia historically nested on open cliff faces and may select different nesting ledges and crevices on the same cliff face in different years. The Richmond pair’s primary nest site over the years has been the West Tower of the Riverfront Plaza. The birds have nested here since 2006, including coming back to nest at this site when first nesting attempts at alternate sites have failed. It is here that DGIF’s Richmond Falcon Cam resides.
The falcon pair was established through hacking efforts in downtown Richmond between 2000 and 2002. Hacking, a technique used to introduce falcons to an area, was conducted as part of the larger efforts to re-establish the once-extirpated Virginia peregrine population. The male of the pair has been the same individual since the pair formed, which we can confirm because of his leg bands. We also strongly suspect that the same female bred there each year through 2016. Her lack of leg bands prevented us from definitively confirming this, but her plumage pattern and exceptionally aggressive behavior left little doubt, especially since we began capturing images of her in 2006. Over their time together, the pair produced 61 eggs, of which 36 hatched; of these, 31 chicks survived to flight age. Some of these chicks were relocated to Shenandoah National Park and hacked there in support of falcon reintroduction efforts in the Virginia mountains, and others fledged the nest in Richmond and went on to breed in other states.
Last year the female of the pair was replaced by not one, but two females during the breeding season. Despite several mating attempts, the first of these females failed to produce eggs and was eventually replaced by a banded female who had hatched on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 2014 at Silver Beach Range Tower. The pair hatched three chicks, of which one survived past fledging and was later spotted cruising the New Jersey skies.
Over the years, the Richmond falcons have provided Falcon Cam viewers with much drama, which illustrates the challenges faced by nesting peregrine falcons across Virginia and beyond. Cam followers have witnessed everything from unhatched eggs and chick mortality at the nest, to juvenile birds lost to collisions with buildings shortly after fledging, and weather events ranging from heavy rain to snow to extreme heat, all culminating in both nesting successes and failures. While we celebrate these successes and mourn the losses in any given year, we appreciate the importance of taking a long view, knowing that the perseverance of this pair over time ultimately enables them to overcome their challenges.
This Falcon Cam season is particularly special because 2018 is the Year of the Bird, a celebration of birds and a call-to-action for people to help birds in simple yet meaningful ways. If you’re a fan of the Richmond Falcon Cam, consider making a donation to Virginia’s Non-game Wildlife Fund, which supports peregrine falcons, a State Threatened species in Virginia, and other Virginia Species of Greatest Conservation Need. And, remember to tune into the Richmond Falcon Cam, beginning March 1, as the falcons embark upon a new breeding season. We hope that the Cam will continue to allow us to witness the resilience of these magnificent birds.