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Urban Legends Exposed: City-Dwelling Peregrine Falcons Offer a 'Rare Wildlife Reality Show' in Union County

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Credits: ucnj.org
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Credits: ucnj.org
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Thanks to a new partnership between the Union County Freeholder Board and the nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, students, scientists and other wildlife enthusiasts all over the world will have more opportunities to study a pair of rare peregrine falcons that have made their nest on the roof of the historic 17-story Union County Courthouse Tower, located in the bustling center of midtown Elizabeth.

Peregrine falcons have been nesting on the Courthouse Tower every year since 2006. In 2016, Union County began offering a free livestream “Falcon Cam” after installing two cameras inside and outside of the nest. This winter a third camera has been added to provide a scenic view, and audio will be available later this year.

“This year our Falcon Cam will become a new collaborative effort between the County and Conserve Wildlife, with assistance from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “This partnership makes Union County a premier site for falcon observation and research in New Jersey. The result is a truly enriching experience that brings the message of environmental stewardship throughout Union County and beyond.”

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The two current occupants of the nest have spent the winter “pair bonding.” Bird watchers who visit the Falcon Cam at the right time can catch sight of the two falcons meeting at the nest, bowing to each other and communicating with gentle sounds called “ee-chupping.”  

“While peregrine falcons were completely gone east of the Mississippi River just a few decades ago, this magnificent bird – the fastest animal in the world – has recovered dramatically in recent years,” said Conserve Wildlife Foundation executive director David Wheeler. “Thanks to Union County, students and New Jerseyans of all ages can enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at this rare wildlife reality show unfolding near tens of thousands of people in downtown Elizabeth.” 

In winter the prime time for viewing is early morning. Activity also tends to occur mid-afternoon. If the pair breeds, the nest will be occupied almost constantly until the chicks fledge.

The Courthouse Tower hosts one of only two falcon cams in New Jersey. The other falcon cam is in Jersey City.

In addition to providing a unique learning opportunity for students of all ages, the Union County Falcon Cam provides essential information that helps promote the continued recovery of peregrine falcons in the eastern U.S.

 The cameras help biologists determine when the chicks are old enough to be banded and enable observers to identify the falcons based on bands placed on their legs at birth. The bands indicate the age of each falcon and where they were born. That information can help scientists detect trends in range of habitat and choice of nesting locations.

The leg bands helped biologists to take note of some recent changes in the  population of the Union County nest.

The first female to occupy the nest was from Jersey City. She remained there until last year, when a new and younger female from New York City gained possession of the coveted spot. Her leg band indicated that she was born at the Throgs Neck Bridge in 2010.

“Peregrine falcons prefer to nest in a high spot on the face of a cliff where they can forage for prey, and apparently the Courthouse Tower fits the bill,” Bergen explained. “It is the tallest building in Union County.”

Early this year, a third female replaced the New York City female. This new occupant does not have a leg band.

The first male to occupy the nest was banded and came to Union County from Connecticut. The current male is unbanded.

The free Falcon Cam livestream is available on the Union County website at ucnj.org/falcon.

Union County has also provided a link to the Falcon Cam on the Conserve Wildlife website, conservewildlifenj.org. Conserve Wildlife will use the Falcon Cam in its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs in local schools, and for programming at the County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is also offering individual and corporate sponsorships of public outreach and environmental education in Union County centered on the Falcon Cam. CWF seeks to provide educational programs, lesson plans, curriculum development, and educational field trips for schools within Union County.

For more information about Conserve Wildlife's individual and corporate sponsorships, call 609-984-6012 or use the online form at ConserveWildlifeNJ.org.

For quick links to all Union County programs related to conservation and sustainability, visit ucnj.org/green-connection.  

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