Talk about birders without binoculars.
In 2001, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey set up a webcam on the roof of 101 Hudson St., a building owned by Mack-Cali. The reason? To keep an eye on the Peregrine falcons that had been nesting atop the high-rise.
In fact, it was not so unusual that the spot was chosen, because falcons typically nest on mountain cliffs. And “what is more cliff-like than the top of a skyscraper?” asks David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. The webcam is an institution, he says, its rooftop locale offering “gorgeous views overlooking the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. … You can see for miles in all directions.”
The arrival of the falcons in Jersey City was great news, and not just for bored office workers. “Peregrine falcons were gone east of the Mississippi just a few decades ago,” says Wheeler.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, was a groundbreaking book that warned of the dangers of DDT to the environment and to wildlife, particularly birds.
“It weakened the raptors’ eggshells, and they wouldn’t support nesting,” Wheeler says. “An entire generation of falcons was lost. Once DDT was eliminated from agriculture, birds again gained a foothold in the region. It’s a remarkable story to where peregrine falcons are now nesting in world metropolises.”
Thirteen years ago, the internet was also gaining a foothold, which paved the way for the falcon cam, which now gets thousands of visitors on any given spring or summer day. If you want to join in, visit conservewildlife.org.
“These powerful birds are agile hunters,” Wheeler says. “They swoop down at 200 miles an hour.” Pigeon lovers be warned. “There is no shortage of pigeons for them to feast on,” Wheeler says. “They drop in a free fall from a very great height, catch their prey, and kill it.” You guys sitting on a park bench throwing bread crumbs on the ground, take note.
Wheeler says that people who are dedicated to watching the webcam every day are called “falcoholics.” A second camera and audio adds to the experience. “To hear the falcons when they are in the nest is extraordinary,” he says. “The second camera can give you the whole skyline and backdrop for this drama going on every day.”
The fun really starts in April when the eggs hatch. Over the next month and into late spring, falcoholics can watch chicks feeding in the nest and being cared for until they can fly on their own. Biologists check on the falcons, take measurements, and band them, so that they can find out where they go from here.
What’s really fascinating is that a single “matriarch” has been nesting on the roof since 2000. So, she’s a city girl who found a home in Jersey City? “She made a commitment to come back every year,” Wheeler says. “She could have chosen anywhere, but chose downtown Jersey City along the riverfront, a perfect home.”
If you were wondering why this nest doesn’t just blow away in the high winds at the top of the building, it’s because the box that the nest rests is on the corner of the roof, with only one side open.
Mack-Cali has been a great partner for the falcon cam project. “They are excited to have this kind of wildlife on their building,” Wheelers says. “It brings a lot of positive attention and feedback from people who work in that area.”
Wheeler says the falcon cam “speaks to Jersey City. It’s a really incredible location with water on both sides, and an incredible habitat in an urban environment. Jersey City residents and workers take pride and feel excited about it.”
Professors and even kindergarten teachers have discovered the falcon cam. “It’s a great teaching tool,” Wheeler says, “taking something remote that you would see on National Geographic and seeing the same drama happening a few blocks away.”—Kate Rounds