To see an angry adult peregrine falcon swooping directly down upon you with outstretched wings, from maybe 15 feet away, is a chilling and exciting experience, even when you know she will swerve away in time.
It was the view a handful of news people and wildlife experts got this week as the raptor's two chicks were banded in their nesting box on the Hotel Utah. The parent birds kept up a raucous protest as the work went on.These bands will help biologists track the birds, part of a growing flock of peregrines in northern Utah.
During a survey of potential falcon nesting sites, aside from that at the Hotel Utah, two aeries were discovered in the Wasatch Mountains, in Utah and Box Elder counties. The survey will continue through June 17.
Bob Walters, non-game biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources, said experts are taken to likely spots by helicopter. "Teams of observers essentially stare at the cliffs, look for activity."
Some of the five peregrines hatched in Hotel Utah nests in previous years may be among these adults. The newest chicks are expected to begin flying about June 19.
But the big story was banding. Walters escorted a group of reporters and biologists into the Hotel Utah, now unused. The big lobby was sadly empty of furniture, set off with tape labeled "caution."
The nesting box was on a walkway outside Suite 1060, which is on the roof level, overlooking the neoclassical former LDS Church Administration Building.
Quietly, biologists prepared for the banding, standing in a shaft of light between curtains to check a scale.
Light flooded in when it was time to get the young birds. The curtain was pulled back on the northern window, and Walters went out, going down a stepladder he put on the walkway.
At first the female carried what was no doubt intended as the youngsters' next meal, a small puffy bundle held tight to her body, beside the tail. It probably was a sparrow she had just killed.
Walters called for a drill to open a panel on the nesting box, then for the "big box." Quickly he handed the large cardboard box back inside.
There, the young birds stood defiantly, wings spread. One toppled as it arched its back, but quickly recovered.
These magnificent birds looked about 8 inches tall. They were covered with ragged white down with bronze and black feathers beginning to show through the fluff. Bits of down floated through the room as cameramen squatted to photograph the captives.
Bruce Clements, a falconer who has worked extensively with the DWR, lifted the birds one at a time, and they dug their needle-sharp talons into his bare hands. He claimed it didn't hurt. One also bit him with its hooked beak, scraping the skin.
One at a time, the birds were popped into a paper bag that hung from the tubelike scale. They weighed 590 and 600 grams, with wrists measured at about 7 mm.
Walters went outside again, walked to the nesting box, and brought a handful of prey remains to the sill. He handed the feathers and other remains to a reporter.
By 9:42 a.m. the babies were back in their nesting box.
Swiftly the biologists climbed back into the room and took up their ladder, the window was closed, the curtain was pulled back in place and the tarp was bundled up.
From the street, one of the adult falcons could be seen as it swooped overhead, crying. The other perched on a cornice high on the hotel.