Melbourne Peregrine Falcon hatchlings at 367 Collins Street prepare for first flight
Peregrine falcon hatchlings atop a Melbourne skyscraper are expected to make their first flight in the next 48 hours in front of an audience of more than 45,000 people.
- Falcons have gained a cult following during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns
- The chicks’ biological father was ousted by a new male who was initially reluctant to show paternal interest
- Hatchlings will remain in the nest until they have fully honed their hunting skills
The Falcons have been laying eggs at 367 Collins Street for more than 30 years, attracting massive followings on social media after a webcam was introduced to broadcast their activities in 2016.
The founder of the Victorian Peregrine Project, Dr Victor Hurley, said while they expected the male to have already fledged, all of the hatchlings – three females and one male – looked strong and healthy .
“The male is a bit late…but he still hasn’t flown yet, and the first of the females shouldn’t fly for the next two days,” he said.
All four eggs laid hatched although the female was forced to spend more time away from the nest hunting for herself after her then partner – and the chicks’ father – became entangled in a love triangle after another male entered the scene.
Dramatic scenes set during the incubation period eventually saw the chicks’ father, known as Dive-bomb Dad, kicked out of the nest.
The chicks’ father-in-law initially seemed disinterested, but Dr Hurley said the male’s parental instincts kicked in when the eggs began to hatch.
The original male has not been spotted since September and Dr Hurley said he was likely dead.
No flight, no food
Under the care of their mother and stepfather, the newborns thrived and prepared to take off from the 34-story building for the first time.
“Adults have reduced the amount of food to about two a day, and we believe this is a deliberate strategy to encourage young people to fly,” Dr Hurley said.
“It’s kind of Homer Simpson’s level of thinking: ‘I’m hungry. I like food. Parents fly with food. Food comes from the sky. I better fly’.”
A lighter body weight – due to reduced nutrition – would also aid their efforts to fly.
“Their bodies are getting lighter so it will be easier for them to fly in the next few days as they will lose some weight,” Dr Hurley said.
“They have feathers that are still growing. Their flight feathers are getting longer so they have longer wings.
“Everything is geared towards that first flight.”
Dr Hurley said the parents would also fly around the nest with food to encourage the hatchlings to fly.
Refined hunting skills
While their first flight is expected any minute, the hatchlings will stay until the end of January next year while they hone their hunting skills.
“Adults will first drop dead birds from the sky on a fledgling and encourage them to catch it,” Dr Hurley said.
“It’s initial training, like training wheels on a young child’s bike.”
What’s next for empty nests?
Dr Hurley said after the birds leave he would be responsible for cleaning the nest, which is made of rocks in specially constructed boxes.
The owner of the building, Mirvac, also planned to install a second camera to give the nearly 50,000 Facebook fans double.
“The camera can only point in one direction at any given time, and every time we move it it distracts and heightens the birds’ attention,” Dr Hurley said.
While virtual twitchers may struggle to catch the first flight of the four birds, Dr Hurley said the birds will undertake many practices over the following weeks for enthusiasts to watch.