Bird Watching

South Bend Peregrine Falcon Nest Mystery for Maltese, Peace, Flash Eggs

SOUTH BEND – Love is in the air – that is, debatable – for the town’s peregrine falcon couple. It’s kind of a triangle, if you want to call it that, and one of them is a rather pugnacious “intruder.”

What’s at stake here are eggs that could be laid any day in the nesting box atop the County-City Building.

So we set out to find answers.

Here’s the deal. The cock and sire of the last four years, Peace, apparently did not return this season. But a new guy has. He appears to be Flash, or M/52 as indicated by the bands on his leg. Alert Falcon camera observers to Bird cameras around the world (or BCAW) spied on this turnover South Bend FalCam.

Two peregrine falcons appear on the FalCam in their nest atop the County-City Building in downtown South Bend early Wednesday, March 23, 2022. The one on the right appears to be the new male, Flash.

We spoke with Mary Koher, a volunteer at Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Fort Wayne, who verified that M/52 is indeed Flash, a male from the Fort Wayne nest atop the Indiana Michigan Power building in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Maltese female, who is in her seventh year in the South Bend nest, may soon lay her first egg. She had been seen raking the floor of the nest, a sign bird experts say she is preparing to lay eggs.

2 first eggs of 2021:Peregrine Falcon lays two eggs (so far) in nest box in downtown South Bend

This Flash guy appeared last month. Jean Galloway of Evansville tells us that she and other BCAW observers who follow the South Bend camera noticed it shortly after the camera was turned on again on February 22. She’s no expert, but she’s been watching bird cams for 10 years, and she’s seen how Maltese and Flash have bowed to each other in acceptance. She even saw them mate last Sunday.

Then, in a move that confused other observers in an online chat on BCAW’s website, an unknown, unbanded woman – “the intruder” – appeared to appear on Monday. The Maltese and the intruder faced off in an apparent brawl on Tuesday. The fight begins two minutes into the video.

Galloway thinks he observed a slight scratch between Maltese’s beak and right eye.

“I hope the Maltese prevails,” Galloway said.

But apparently, Galloway added, the intruder stopped in the nest again on Wednesday morning, and that’s “discouraging”.

State ornithologist Allisyn Gillet, who works for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, tells us the intruder is likely a young, wild-hatched hawk trying to establish its own territory, his own nest.

Gillet said females can fight for hours, trying to see which one can claim control of a nest.

“They will fight to the death, unfortunately,” she said.

She guesses that the Maltese will probably go ahead and lay her eggs when they are due. And she may have to continue fighting the intruder after he’s gone to bed. If the intruder wins, she could discard the Maltese eggs and lay her own, Gillet said. The good thing for the Maltese, Gillet said, is that she is older and “has more experience”.

Our usual regional Audubon Society expert is out of town. He has not yet investigated the case. So questions remain: how long will the Maltese and the Flash stay together? Who is the intruder? How long will she continue to visit?

Migration season 2021:Migratory warblers invade Indiana Dunes festival as hawks hatch in South Bend

What we do know is that the Maltese originally flew from Milwaukee before nesting in South Bend. Peace had come from Mt. Clemens, Michigan. They had their first clutch together in 2017. Last year they laid four eggs, three of which hatched.

Prior to this, Maltese partnered with a male named Zeus for two seasons and then he didn’t return.

Meanwhile in Fort Wayne, Falcon love is pretty steady. Koher, who lives minutes from the nest there and helps with fallen birds, said there have only been two pairs that have mated since that nest was built in 1996. That includes Moxie and Jamie who have been around since 2013, plus an original pair ahead of them.

Two Peregrine Falcons appear on the South Bend FalCam inside the nest atop the County-City Building in downtown South Bend early Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

To date, a total of 65 chicks have come from the Fort Wayne nest. This week, I&M reported that Moxie and Jamie laid four eggs between March 13 and March 19, seen through the nest camera. The eggs usually hatch a month later.

Oh yeah, another question: Where is the peace? No one is sure of the beauty of South Bend.

Gillet said it could be an “ominous” sign since the hawks, which migrate south for the winter, normally return to the nest where they hatched chicks on several occasions. So something bad could have happened to Peace.

He is missed by longtime BCAW observers from the South Bend FalCam. And, hey, can’t we all use a little peace now?

Email South Bend Tribune reporter Joseph Dits at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures.