Peter Green, a photographer and graphic artist, documents life atop the Superman Building in downtown Providence through his website, www.providenceraptors.com. He spoke to the Providence Business News this week about the resident peregrine falcons.
Each year, a webcam maintained by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island provides a window into their tending of chicks, focused on a nesting box that was installed atop the building many years ago. And every year, Green photographs as Joe Zybrowski puts a band on the leg of each new chick, identifying them for future researchers.
Although placed on the endangered species list in 1970, the raptors have rebounded and have a stable population in the wild.
PBN: How did the peregrine falcon box come to be on the Superman Building?
GREEN: The peregrines chose the spot themselves. There were plenty of peregrines all over the place until the 1950s, when [the pesticide] DDT started to wipe out the population of raptors all over the East Coast. They spotted peregrines on the Superman Building in the 1950s. Then they were gone for 30 years or so.
In the 1990s, one started to show up there. [Joe Zybrowski], the guy who bands them … he and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife [Service] … put the box in the place where she had already been spotted sitting. In the wild they live really high up on cliffs. They dive down and catch shore birds below.
Once they started to repopulate the East Coast, we had these giant skyscrapers up, which kind of acted like cliffs. So, they naturally tended to go toward these skyscrapers on their own. What happened here was they would lay their eggs on the edge, and they would actually roll off. … If it was the edge of a cliff, they would actually scrape and make an indentation in the ground to hold the eggs, but they can’t do that on the concrete of a building. They put the box there. But she didn’t take to the box until 2000.
PBN: Have you had other requests from other building owners about putting up nesting boxes?
GREEN: This is the thing, the [Superman] falcons wouldn’t allow it. They own 1 mile of territory. They would kill them. This year, we have two new birds that have no bands on them. So, we don’t know where these adults came from. For the last three years, we had a nice pair that were mated for three years. The female who is here now is missing three wing feathers from the fight for the box. So, that’s how we can ID her. You can ID her by her missing wing feathers. They are known to fight to the death.
PBN: Do the female and male peregrines stay together?
GREEN: They stay together but … they do switch. The phrase is they mate for life, but they don’t mourn for a second. Somebody will try to fight every year to break them up. If the mate is gone, they’ll just mate with the new one.
PBN: So, if you have a couple that aren’t banded, it means they’re in the wild and reproducing without human interference?
GREEN: Exactly. It’s upsetting that we don’t know where these two new ones came from, but it’s a good sign the peregrines are doing well and that there are many nests that we don’t know about and don’t band. But there are also some that we do know about and don’t band. They live on Pawtucket City Hall, 5 miles away. The building itself is … unsafe for humans to climb. They’re near the very top; there is actually a box … [put there] years ago. I [photograph] them from the ground. You can see them flying around.
PBN: How did you get involved in raptor photography?
GREEN: I’m a graphic designer. I moved into downtown Providence. I live in Peerless Lofts, and I had a great view of the building. Now I give talks about it. You see a bunch of pigeons flying in a flock like something spooked them, and you wonder what’s up. I would see that happening. And then one pigeon would leave the flock and fly up to the top of the Superman Building, or one of the ledges.
And one day I took out the binoculars and saw that it wasn’t a pigeon, it was something that was literally tearing the pigeon apart. I looked it up and read that there were peregrine falcons. So, then I kept the camera with me and hoped that I would run into a peregrine falcon. And I ran into a red-tailed hawk. So, wow, now there’s even more stuff? From there I was hooked.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.