With their concerned parents flying in circles overhead and letting out an occasional shriek, four fluffy, white peregrine falcon chicks were banded early Monday on the rooftop of the Westar Energy building in downtown Topeka, where they hatched a little less than a month ago.
Officials said 2018 marked the first time that four of the falcon chicks were hatched from a nest located near the top of the 12-story Westar Energy building at 818 S. Kansas Ave. Usually only one to three of the eggs have hatched.
The proud parents were peregrine falcons named Nemaha and Boreas.
“It’s a good year for falcons,” said Brad Loveless, executive director of environmental services for Westar Energy. “They don’t always lay four eggs, and they did it again this year.”
Several Westar employees and other wildlife specialists were present for the banding event Monday morning. The goal was to put an identifying band on a leg of each chick, enabling them to be tracked for distance and location as they grow older.
Initially, larger bands were to be placed on female chicks, while smaller bands were to go around legs of the male chicks.
Before going to the top of the building to do the banding, Loveless said he was hopeful that the gender of the chicks would be easily distinguished, based on the fact that all were hatched within a 24-hour period — something else that hadn’t happened before, as the chicks usually hatch on successive days.
Loveless said he was hoping the size differential would be evident. Female falcons grow to be about 50 percent larger than their male counterparts, with the size difference usually noticeable after the first few weeks after they hatched.
However, after closely inspecting all of the falcons on Monday morning, Loveless said it wasn’t clear whether the chicks were all females, all males or one or more of each.
So, to be on the safe side, female — or larger-sized — bands were placed on each of the chicks, to make sure the bands wouldn’t restrict their legs as they grew into adulthood. If the birds were later to be determined to be male, notations would be made by Westar officials.
Loveless said the falcons on Monday were about 20 days old, and noted Nemaha and Boreas, were skilled hunters that have been busy finding food for their offspring through the many pigeons and starlings that also live in downtown Topeka.
Loveless said Nemaha and Boreas nested for the eighth consecutive year in a box that Westar provided near the top of its 12-story building in downtown Topeka.
He said the first peregrine falcons reported at Westar’s Topeka headquarters arrived in 1992. By 1994, Westar had provided a box for them to use as a nest.
Nearly every year since then, the same pair of falcons returned to the box for several years at a time. The box, Loveless said, has only been empty for a year or two at a time, when the birds didn’t come back to Topeka after flying south for the winter.
When the box has been vacated, he said, new pairs of falcons have competed to use it for their home.
Peregrine falcons, which are birds of prey, were removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s threatened species list in 1999, thanks to increases in their population.
For the first year, Loveless said, another pair of peregrine falcons nested in an unused auxiliary fan located at a high point at Westar Energy’s plant just north of Lawrence. That couple had four eggs, from which three chicks were hatched.
Loveless said the parents and their offspring usually depart Topeka in the fall for warmer climates to the south. Then, they typically return in the spring.
Only this time, he said, the parents make it clear that it is time for them to have more chicks, and that the offspring need to move along and find their own homes.