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Learning about the local falcons at the Nashua Child Learning Center. Courtesy Photo.




Keeping up with the falcons
How a webcam brought together a community

06/16/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 When the first falcon chicks hatched in the nest atop the Brady Sullivan tower in Manchester on May 1, an unseen village of humans became emotionally invested in their health, safety and upbringing. And thanks to a partnership between Single Digits, a Bedford tech company, and the New Hampshire Audubon Society, those humans could meet one another in the process.

The Single Digits Live Peregrine Falcon Nest Cam was upgraded in March, just before the mother started laying eggs, to provide high-definition video, audio, adjustable angles and night vision. But just as important was a new chat feature on YouTube that was set up so viewers could ask questions about the falcons. 
Soon enough, however, it became a chat space for a core group who delighted in the shared experience and collectively narrated the six-week childhoods of four nestlings with perhaps more liberal imaginations than biologists would prefer.
 
The drama
As if it were a reality TV show, populated by characters with distinct personalities, regular viewers can recall many of the same scenes — like when Chicken Hawk stole away with an entire meal to greedily eat in the corner alone and Peanut snuck up and snatched it back when Chicken Hawk was briefly distracted.
And who can forget when the others conspired to box Chicken Hawk out of the nest so Peanut could eat first for once, or when Peewee fell onto the outside ledge when a gust of wind tipped him over?
And everyone recalls the banding with the same level of post-traumatic stress usually triggered by remembering a particularly shocking scene in HBO’s Game of Thrones known as the Red Wedding. The process involved removing the babies from the nest and putting tags on their legs. Many got to watch the process in person but for those watching the webcam’s view of the empty nest, it was a scene of panic and fear.
“The day they got banded, I was so paranoid. The mother and father were flying around. I was hoping they wouldn’t get hurt because they were, like, spastic,” said Debbie Leighton of Manchester, a 54-year-old stay-at-home grandmother known for typing with all capital letters in the chat box due to her poor eyesight.
“The parents were just so upset. They both got out there and they were squawking,” said David York of Weare, a quick-to-laugh 65-year-old collector of hobbies.
The drama also captivated an entire classroom of preschoolers in Nashua.
“Oh my goodness, that was the longest hour for all of us,” said Kristine Funk, a preschool teacher at Nashua Child Learning Center.
Funk started showing her students the falcon cam on an iPad when the eggs were first laid, and it soon became an obsession for the whole class and eventually the rest of the preschool. While it was primarily a way to teach kids about springtime life cycles, Funk found herself watching the eggs hatch at 4 a.m. as her husband slept.
“I noticed when the chicks were first born … dad came in and started pacing when one of the eggs hatched, like ‘What do I do, what do I do? It’s not an egg, it’s not an egg!’” Funk said. “It was hysterical. I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t wait until my husband woke up so I could tell him.”
 
The characters
The community of viewers gave the babies their unofficial names and swears they each shine as individuals.
Chicken Hawk, the oldest female, was always the largest and more aggressive. As a chick, she would edge out the smaller chicks to get the first helpings of food from the mom, and as she became bigger and stronger, that behavior seemed to worsen.
Pistachio, the second female, was born next. She may be the sarcastic one, always throwing shade with a cockeyed look at the others’ antics. 
Like that one time when Chicken Hawk was being unusually playful with her food.
“[Chicken Hawk] was just hopping and bopping all over the place,” said York. “And … Pistachio was looking at her like, ‘What is wrong with you?’” 
And Pistachio is said to always spend her time hanging out with her fellow middle sibling, Peewee.
Peewee is the third falcon to hatch and the first male. Ever since his big adventure with the ledge, he has been seen as the more adventurous of the group, regularly jumping out onto the ledge long before the others worked up the courage to do the same.
And Peanut, a second male, is the favored underdog.
“Everyone always roots for the smallest and youngest one … Peanut,” said Anne Pardo, an administrative assistant from Weare who works at a Manchester law firm.
At first it seemed like he was being overlooked during feedings, but Pardo says the mother always made sure to feed him after the older, more insistent siblings got their fill.
“He just is so cute. I mean, everybody latched onto him immediately. He’s the strategist of the group,” said York.
Biologists say many of these perceived personalities and interactions are more likely just amateurs creating stories based on human experiences and judging wild animals by the same measure we would other humans, with little knowledge of how raptors normally behave.
For instance, many watched as both the father and mother took turns keeping the eggs warm but as soon as the chicks hatched, the father was rarely seen, causing some to speculate about his attentiveness or worry for his well-being. But while viewers couldn’t see him, he was actually never far away. He was hunting for food, delivering it to the mother outside the nest and going straight back for more.
 
The viewers
Folks like Pardo, York and Leighton expressed their gratitude to the Audubon and Single Digits for setting up the camera and the chat box. They watch the falcons at the office and at home and sometimes leave the video feed on at all hours of the day and night.
Last week the birds all “fledged” — began to fly — but unfortunately, it didn’t go smoothly for all. Peewee, living up to his character, was the first to jump but days later the group was in mourning after he was found dead on a nearby roadway. It’s believed Peewee was grounded by an injury and later struck by a car. Pistachio was also injured almost immediately after taking the plunge, but York — who was in town — stayed with the bird in the parking lot until specialists from Wings of the Dawn rehab center picked her up. She was delivered back to the nest soon after.
Still, some of these people-friendships may continue well into the future.
“I think I will probably have some long-term friendships from this. A lot of us seem to be local,” York said.
In fact, the gang, most of whom have never met in person, scheduled a meetup in Manchester for June 18. And a Facebook group called Manchester NH Falcon Fans was recently formed with about 100 members already. 





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