While PEFA (Peregrine Falcon) are perhaps best known for their exceptional skills in the fine art of Burder (the proper, scientific term for “Bird Murder”) they have a lesser known, but equally gifted talent for making adorable, fuzzy, baby monsters.
It’s been quite a while since this spring’s Tribute At The Tower of Doom. Clearly it’s time for Ben Wurst the Osprey Hero to check in and see how summer is shaping up for everyone’s favorite Peregrine family over in the Sedge Islands.
Not long after a first egg was discovered in the eyrie during the Tribute At The Tower of Doom earlier this spring, three more eggs were laid. That’s a full clutch. And so of course we were hopefully expecting a total Monster Mash on this visit.
After lots of huffing and puffing, scaling the rickety old Tower of Doom in the middle of the Sedge Islands where captive-bred Peregrine Falcons were first hacked back into the wild in New Jersey, it’s always a race to the finish line: crawling carefully across the equally rickety upper deck and peeking into the little Igloo(TM) doghouse eyrie to make the very first human-to-monster contact with the mighty Peregrine. It’s surely a special honor to be the first human to annoy a Peregrine Falcon in its young life. I don’t think a child’s first Christmas has ever been or will ever be as thrilling and full of wonder.
But right away it was clear something was off. The inflated and heady atmosphere of thrill and expectation collapsed almost instantly into a pile of worry. An unhatched egg was just sitting there, wasting away on the platform. It was a reminder that you never know exactly what you’re going to find when you peek into the secret recesses of a Peregrine eyrie.
Where we were expecting four, there was sadly only one. And what a very sad looking, very dirty little girl she was. Covered in filth and feathers and excrement, both she and the eyrie were a total mess. An unrepentant disaster. Par for the course with crowded PEFA eyries during nesting season, but this one still was particularly, and especially, gruesome.
I certainly can’t judge her. She looked about as well-groomed as I was at the time, and her home might have been even a touch tidier than my own on that day. After all, it’s springtime and adventure abounds. Little time for such time sucks as “basic hygiene” and “laundry”.
But soon I felt like Mr. Clean (TM) himself because through the wind-driven shimmers and twitches of the pile of prey feathers lining the floor of the eyrie, something was creeping, something was crawling. Crawling on her. Crawling up the walls of the Igloo (TM). Crawling up my, yuck, arm.
Apparently this little princess of the Sedge Islands, Josie Grossie, was totally infested with some kind of lice-type-ticky-blood-sucky things. At first we caught quick, flea-looking glimpses of them scurrying across her pristine white fuzz… but when Ben lifted her wing, there they were fully embedded; dug in for the long haul and swollen with her blood to the point of bursting.
This variety of blood sucking freak is becoming more common in coastal Peregrine Falcon and is a worrying trend for many reasons. Samples are being collected and sent swiftly to secret labs in order to identify just who and what these creatures are as specifically as possible. Certainly more specifically than my own taxonomy: “Doom Buggies (Maximus Vomitus)”
But most current theories believe they are the same variety of bird lice carried by, brace yourselves: SHOREBIRDS.
Longtime Readers will remember that Readings From The Northside pitched a special deal to the Island’s local Peregrine Falcon long ago: as long as they keep their menu limited to “regular” birds, they are completely and totally welcome to live here among us and share the beach. But shorebirds, particularly our precious local, endangered beach nesters, are forbidden fruit. Totally off limits. Not even in consideration for the menu.
It turns out the public scorn and shame of the Readings is the least of their worries.
Always prepared for this type of nonsense, Ben was ready with the lice kit and able to treat Josie Grossie with a few quick squirts, and to freshen up the eyrie a little as well.
Despite the obvious irritation and discomfort, and the lingering mystery of what might have gone so terribly wrong at the Tower of Doom this spring, Josie Grossie looked otherwise healthy. As an only child she has probably been fed quite well. Her personal life was just a little bit of disaster. So beyond her troubling childhood, Josie Grossie is in fact on the brink of being a Falcon grown. She was ready for her bands. Ready to become a Jersey Girl for life.
And we’re sorry for the unfortunate name Josie Grossie. But you sure do shine up like a new penny after a little TLC from Ben Wurst & the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ.
Hang in there Josie Grossie. Photos and samples of the infestation are off to the lab and to the veterinarian.
And if you can get your mom and dad to stick to a steady diet of “regular” birds, and honor our agreement that shorebirds are off limits, we’ll see if we can’t get Kathy Clark to come out for a visit and give you one her famous Peregrine makeovers. Stay tuned!