By: Zoë Kelly
Photography Supplied by Matt Perry
If you shift your gaze up towards the skies in downtown Utica, you just might catch a fascinating glimpse of the local Peregrine Falcons Astrid and Ares. They chose Utica as their home, and reside in a nest box on the 15th floor of the Adirondack Bank. I spoke to Deborah Saltis, co-founder of the Utica Peregrine Falcon Project, about the beginnings of the Peregrine Project and anecdotes on the falcons Astrid and Ares.
The project began 6-7 years ago, when Deborah Saltis was approached by Matt Perry. Initially she was in disbelief that Peregrine Falcons were really here in Utica before coming around to the idea and recalls, “I started to just look in the sky when I would go out and oh- that might be a- well that’s different? That’s not a pigeon?”. Matt Perry had been following falcons in Utica and noticed the Peregrines did not have a nest site yet, so he decided along with the Kirkland Bird Club to get involved and build a nest box. The nest box ended up being constructed right outside Deborah’s then office window, which is now a file room. Online you can find their nesting area being streamed by 6 cameras and frequent blog updates on the lives of Astrid and Ares at www.Big-Green.net/falcon.
Peregrine Falcons are powerful raptors. While in pursuit of prey Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of just over 60mph, like feathered missiles. Ares has been praised as an incredibly skilled hunter, and has been observed performing the most daring of ariel feats. A falcon watcher recalls, “ I have seen Ares do a stoop and get a pigeon. A stoop is when they go up to 200mph straight down. They go from really, really, high in the sky and they come down and take their talons as fists and punch their prey and knock it out. And I could actually see it! I just got lucky and was watching him in binoculars and I could see him hit the prey, the prey fall a little bit away from him, and then he grabbed it”. The agility and speed capabilities of the Peregrine Falcons are astonishing.
There are group opportunities downtown for observing the Peregrine Falcons. This year walks are scheduled April 13th at 10am, and April 17th at 6:30pm. The walks take you through the “canyon”- the area between the Adirondack Bank and the State Office Building. On the walks Astrid and Ares’s nesting site will be pointed out, and you can learn more about fledge watch and what to expect. Fledge watch is a spectacular show to see in the sky, where the eyases (baby falcons) take their first flight. Deborah explains, ”You need to come to see fledge watch, it’s how you really get to see these birds in action! There’s nothing like watching a Peregrine fly through the air, they are absolutely phenomenal acrobats. Once they fledge and the parents are teaching them to catch prey, they do it by either handing the prey off to them, so the mom is flying around, and the babies come underneath- and sometimes parents drop the food and the babies grab it. And that’s how they learn how to grab things mid-air, because Peregrines take their food mid-air”. Astrid has laid her first egg on April 1st three times in five years, and it will be interesting to see if it happens again this year. The canyon walk and fledge watch are both great opportunities to observe Astrid and Ares, and be shown what to look for in the sky. Deborah believes and most agree, “If you get here and you get a little bit of a show, you come back. How could you not come back! They’re just pretty awesome”. The Peregrine Falcons and the walks are a great reason to go downtown and participate in the community in a very interesting way.