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Falcon Cam: Reality TV for Bird Lovers

LocalFalcon Cam: Reality TV for Bird Lovers


Good morning. It’s Friday, and we’ll find out about a closely watched nest of peregrine falcons in Lower Manhattan. We’ll also get details on how former Gov. Andrew Cuomo scored another victory in his battle against the ethics panel created by his successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul.

There are birders who have been counting the days since March 25. And also April 2.

On those days a peregrine falcon laid the first and last of several eggs in a nest that is both private and closely watched in Lower Manhattan. The nest is private because it is on a windowless ledge of an office building that towers over South Street and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

The nest is closely watched because what happens there can be seen on Falcon Cam, a video feed from a camera above the nest. “An urban naturalist’s reality TV,” the writer Lenora Todaro called the feed.

The female has occupied the nest since 2020. The male is new this year, said Barbara Saunders, who has followed several generations of peregrine falcons there.

The female is apparently older than the male: He was born there, in 2020. And the clock is ticking on the cycle for hatching the eggs, usually about 35 days after they were laid.

“It’s getting a little bit late,” Saunders said.

There have been cameras on red-tailed hawks’ nests: A Hawk Cam in the office of the president of New York University followed a pair known as Bobby and Violet in 2011 after she laid three dull-white eggs. Like that feed, Falcon Cam is potentially addictive. Matthew Wills, an amateur naturalist from Brooklyn who posted images from Falcon Cam on his website last year, said that a friend checks the 55 Water Street cam more than he does — and sends him text messages, “even if nothing’s happening.”

“Whoever’s watching” — whoever is sitting on the eggs, because the male and female take turns — “is waiting for a sign that there are nestlings under the mother,” Wills said. “Or the father, as the case may be.”

On Thursday there were long moments of, well, very little. She picked up a rock with her beak. A snack? No. She dropped the rock. She cleaned her feathers. She stood up, showing off the four eggs — two white and two brown, all speckled. She nudged them to her right. She enveloped them again. The male appeared, oblivious to the idea that they were onstage all the time.

“I don’t think they have any idea of that,” Wills said. “But for those of us watching, it’s this intimate view of a process that would otherwise be extremely hard to see.”

Saunders, who worked in the area in the 1990s and often went to lunch nearby, recalled seeing “something dive on a gull” and then fly to the ledge of the Water Street building. She had heard that there were peregrine falcons in Lower Manhattan and walked by every day at lunchtime. Eventually, she said, “I saw a different one, a young one, pop up on the ledge.”

A pair known as Jack and Jjaie debuted in 1999, when a camera was installed above the ledge, sending a small black-and-white image to a monitor in the lobby of the building. Jack and Jjaie left, and by 2008 the nest had been adopted by a pair named Jasper and Jubilee. When Todaro, who writes about urban wildlife and is the author of the children’s book “Sea Lions in the Parking Lot,” wrote about falcons at 55 Water Street in 2019, those birds in residence were known as Frank and Adele.

Peregrine falcons are listed as an endangered species in New York State after being all but wiped out by pesticide residue in the prey they captured and ate. But the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation says that the falcons now nest on every bridge across the Hudson River south of Albany, and that New York City may have the largest urban population of peregrine falcons anywhere.

“What happened in the ’80s and ’90s was that the falcons started looking at these cliff-like buildings that we have and saying, Hey, that’s the place for me,” Wills said. “I once read that great horned owls took over their old nesting spots” — in cliffs along the Palisades, for example — “and prevented the peregrines from returning.”

Robert DeCandido, who as “Birding Bob” leads birding expeditions in Central Park and conducts scientific research on birds, said that the Brooklyn Bridge used to be a nesting spot for peregrine falcons. “It was on the Manhattan side, in the first caisson about 100 feet above the roadway,” he said. “One time they fledged, and a guy selling soda and water picked up the fledgling. He was trying to figure out what to do with it to make money, probably.” But the peregrine falcons abandoned that nest, he said.


Weather

Prepare for rain and temperatures in the mid-50s. Expect a chance of showers at night, with temperatures in the high 40s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until May 27 (Memorial Day).


In a victory for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an appellate court upheld a lower-court ruling that an ethics commission created by his successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, was unconstitutional.

My colleague Grace Ashford writes that the unanimous ruling by the five appellate judges set the stage for a showdown with profound ramifications for ethics enforcement in New York State. The state promised to take the case to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Thursday’s ruling cast doubt on the commission’s long-term viability, even though the state can seek a stay to keep the ethics board operating until the Court of Appeals issues a decision.

Hochul created the panel in 2021 to restore the public’s faith in government after Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal. He has been fighting the panel over its attempt to force him to turn over $5 million that he received for a book about his administration’s efforts to fight Covid during the pandemic.

The new panel replaced the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which had been dogged by rumors of corruption. Hochul moved to remove elements that had left the Joint Commission vulnerable to political influence. She reduced the number of members who would be appointed by the governor, and she created a new vetting process that involved deans from the state’s law schools. The Legislature gave its imprimatur to the new panel.

Cuomo had already sued the Joint Commission, which had approved his book deal and then rescinded its approval, and after that panel was disbanded, he also sued the new entity, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. The trial court agreed with Cuomo, and on Thursday, so did the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department, saying that the Legislature, “though well intentioned, violated the bedrock principles of separation of powers.”


METROPOLITAN diary

Dear Diary:

I was standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change. Two women were chatting nearby.

“Didja hear?” one said to the other. “My husband has a price on his head.”

“No!” the second woman replied.

They both smiled.

— Andy Robinson

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.



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