Peregrine Falcon

 A peregrine falcon (not Island Girl) visits Goose Pond outside of Madison, WI.   Photo by Arlene Koziol.

A peregrine falcon (not Island Girl) visits Goose Pond outside of Madison, WI.  Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Featured Sanctuary Bird: Peregrine Falcon

Island Girl, a female peregrine falcon and a celebrity in the falcon world, flew over Goose Pond on September 28th, on her migration south from Baffin Island in the high Arctic to her wintering area along the coast of Chile. She began the day near Munising, MI along Lake Superior, and flew 398 miles with northeast winds before ending the day east of Davenport, IA. We wondered if she took a lunch break hunting ducks and coots at Goose Pond.

 Island Girl's migration routes from 2009 to 2013. Source: http://www.frg.org/track_pefa12_all_combined.htm

Island Girl's migration routes from 2009 to 2013. Source: http://www.frg.org/track_pefa12_all_combined.htm

The Incredible Journey

Island Girl was at least two years old when she was trapped and fitted with a satellite transmitter in Chile on March 15, 2009 by the Southern Cross Peregrine Project. Island Girl has made the 18,000-mile round trip at least nine times with this fall being at least her 10th migration south. It is astounding that she has flown the equivalent of about seven times the circumference of the earth. She left Baffin Island and headed south on September 16th.  As of October 23rd she was in Costa Rica and had flown 4,830 miles in 36 days.

In 2012, Todd Peterson wrote of Island Girl in an interview with Bud Anderson in BirdNote.  “She has rested on the capitol dome of the state of Illinois and on oil-rigs miles far from shore in the Gulf of Mexico.” Bud Anderson called Island Girl “a master of the air.” Anderson has been tracking peregrine migrations for more than 40 years, now, using satellite telemetry. Said Anderson: 

This is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen. … You can actually sit at your desk at home… look at our website and Google Earth, and you can track these birds every day. You will know exactly where they are three times a day down to 20 meters… you can see the individual rock the bird’s sitting on, the tree they’re sleeping on at night. You know when they leave Chile. You know how far they travel every day. You know when they arrive in the Arctic. Where they nest. When they head back down. People have wondered where these birds go for thousands of years. [Literally “peregrine” means “wanderer”] And we’re so fortunate now to be living in this time …for the first time in history we know precisely where those birds are going and how long it takes them to get there… It’s just miraculous. 

This was Island Girl’s first view of Goose Pond. One fall, she flew over Sun Prairie and Monona.  Some of her fall migrations have taken her through the western Great Lakes and along the Texas gulf coast while other years she headed to Florida, over Cuba to reach Chile. In spring, she travels through the Dakotas probably following the duck and shorebird migrations before heading to Baffin Island.

 This banded peregrine, Suny, hatched and was banded in Minnesota in 2010. The Midwest subspecies may be residents year-round in this area.  Photo by Arlene Koziol .

This banded peregrine, Suny, hatched and was banded in Minnesota in 2010. The Midwest subspecies may be residents year-round in this area. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Cedar Grove Banding

In early October, Mark and other Madison Audubon members including Patricia Becker, Martha Christensen, and Arlene and Jeff Koziol visited Cedar Grove Hawk Banding Station along Lake Michigan on a Natural Resource Foundation field trip and first learned about Island Girl. Since 1950 over 43,000 raptors have been banded at Cedar Grove and their “trophy” bird is the peregrine falcon. By our visit they had observed about 70 peregrines and had banded seven. A few days before our visit they caught one young, hungry, peregrine twice in less than two hours. Adult peregrines, however, are extremely difficult to catch and they have only caught about 35 adult peregrines in 67 years.

Once they trapped a peregrine that was banded in the high Arctic and later trapped in Argentina. A Cedar Grove-banded peregrine was found in the Alps (dead, unfortunately). They are seeing more peregrines in the last couple decades as the falcons nesting in the Midwest are increasing and the population is recovering from DDT. Cedar Grove banders would like to trap Island Girl, but she is elusive. Two years ago she flew past them but was flying over Lake Michigan to the east of the banding station.

Peregrines and Goose Pond

Last year we had at least two peregrines visit Goose Pond during a three week period in October. One was a Midwest bird with colored bands. We hope you visit and locate a peregrine. Midwest peregrines could visit Goose Pond as long as ducks are present. They like to perch on the dead trees along Goose Pond Road.

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Written by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers, and Maddie Dumas, Land Steward, Goose Pond Sanctuary -

Photos by Arlene Koziol.