Nature is a cruel mother: The life and death of a Downtown falcon – Indianapolis Star
Indiana is home to several species of birds that hunt and feed on rodents and other small animals. Details provided by Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds Dawn Mitchell/IndyStar
A peregrine falcon mother ruled the skies above Downtown Indianapolis for 16 years, but it appears the reign of KathyQ has come to a violent end.
Nature can be cruel. Young female falcons muscle out the old, a cycle KathyQ knew well.
Falcon watchers are pretty sure that she is the dead falcon visible on IndyStar’s FalconCam, the live web-cam feed that watches the nest box on the 31st floor of Market Tower.
“We can’t see a band on her leg; feathers are covering it up,” said Laura James-Reim, a blogger who has been writing about the city’s falcons for about 15 years. “I figured she was gone and dead somewhere, but I never truly expected that.”
Peregrines are the fastest creatures on the planet. They fly high and fast, diving at 240 mph and striking other birds like a feathered missile.
KathyQ paired with multiple males, feasted on the city’s birds and produced 60 young in the 16 years she was queen of Monument Circle.
A band on her leg told researchers she was hatched in 1998 in Wisconsin. KathyQ isn’t her official name, but it’s what Indy’s falcon watchers called her in honor of a woman involved in the falcon program who died.
KathyQ took over the Downtown nest in 2001. She drove away or killed a female falcon called Scout that had resided there. Scout’s body was never found.
KathyQ had been a fierce and protective mother, but at age 19 she was ancient for a wild peregrine. She hadn’t laid a viable egg since 2014.
She died on March 23, observers believe. A falcon watcher who works in the nearby Salesforce Tower (formerly Chase Tower) heard loud squawking coming from Market Tower. Out the window he saw two birds fighting over the Market Tower nest box, one outside and one inside.
A third bird, believed to be KathyQ’s latest mate, circled the combat.
“This is the normal cycle of things,” said John Castrale, a retired biologist who worked for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Castrale is the man who started the peregrine program and helped bring falcons back to Indiana’s cities. He said what we see as gruesome violence is natural behavior.
“You get a young bird in there, she gets established. She’ll be tested later on when she’s not as strong and not as productive,” Castrale said. “Nature works to fill that void. Life continues.”
Watchers discovered the body when a camera was panned toward the floor to look for eggs. James-Ream announced KathyQ’s likely death on April 7.
“Change was inevitable,” she said. “They (KathyQ and her first and longest mate Kenny) had wonderful productive long lives, which I hope most of us can say. They left a legacy. They made a community Downtown.”
James-Reim is calling the new falcon Willow.
“Why Willow?” James-Ream explained in an April 10 post. “The word has a connection to healing, and I think that’s what all of us faithful ‘falconheads’ need a little bit of with all that has transpired recently.”
Call IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at (317) 444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @vicryc.