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July 30, 2013

Campbell Ewald falcons story ends sadly

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Statistically speaking, the odds were against her.

Still, thousands of online viewers watched “Amelia,” a young peregrine falcon, emerge from an egg atop Campbell Ewald’s Warren office tower this spring and grow from a hatchling, to a fledgling, to an aerial predator-in-training.

Amelia’s life was sadly cut short July 27, two days after she was found in a courtyard at the General Motors Technical Center near 13 Mile and Van Dyke.          

The body of the young eyas, the last survivor from three eggs laid in a rooftop nest box in April, will be further examined in an attempt to determine the cause of her death. A second hatchling died in the nest on May 24 and was removed by one of the parent birds. The third egg failed to hatch.

Christine Becher, the southeast Michigan peregrine falcon coordinator for the Wildlife Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said such tragedy is all-too-common in the cutthroat world of falcons in the wild.  She said the survival rate for the birds is 50 to 60 percent in the first year and that only 25 percent survive their first two years.

“Not every bird will make it, we know that,” Becher said. “Survival is tough. There are tall buildings. There are glass windows. Birds — young birds, when they’re learning to fly and hunt — are flying very fast. They have to be accurate. When they misjudge, that could be the demise of the birds.”

Becher said it was too early to tell exactly what killed Amelia. She said the bird did suffer a very small wound at the bend of her wing when she flew into a window but that a necropsy would be performed to determine the cause of death with certainty.

Campbell Ewald hosted a gathering of employees, state wildlife officials and the press June 5 when Amelia was officially identified, banded and examined. About 1,000 people viewed the banding event on the Internet and the company logged more than 100,000 hits on the #CEFALCONS Tumblr page as viewers flocked to watch the birds hatch and grow on a webcam.  

Campbell Ewald property manager Paul Lenney constructed the nest box in 2006 after sporadic falcon sightings at the 10-story tower over the two previous years.

The company posted a statement on the Tumblr page as news of Amelia’s death spread.

“It is with a very heavy heart that we share the news of Amelia’s passing today. She died at Spirit Filled Wings (a rehabilitation facility) during the early morning hours after being found injured at the GM Tech Center on July 25,” the statement said. “She was found in an enclosed courtyard with an injury to her right wing and a small open wound near her elbow. The hope was that Amelia would successfully heal and return to her parents, however it all just seemed too much for the little girl.”

Because of the perils that beset young falcons, Becher said it’s a cause for celebration when birds hatched in the spring successfully leave their nests in late August or early September. After departing the nest of its birth, a falcon can travel great distances across the Midwest and eastern Canada in search of a home — and a mate — of its own.

Peregrine falcons are still making a comeback in Michigan. Pesticides used in the 1950s and 1960s caused a thinning of the eggshell that decimated the populations of some birds, including peregrine falcons. Experts expected there would only be about 20 known successful peregrine falcons nests in Michigan this year.

Becher said a bird named “Leopold” was among the most successful banded falcons in the region, having nested at DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant for 13 of his 15 years of life before his death in 2010. Leopold produced 33 chicks with four different mates.

“Really, we do like to think about those Leopolds that do make it and produce so many young,” Becher said.

Despite the tragic death of Amelia and the other hatchling atop Campbell Ewald’s office, Becher said the parent peregrine falcons would continue to defend the nest box throughout the year, barring the death of one of the parent birds or a successful challenge by an outsider. If the birds are able to again mate next year, eggs could return to the rooftop as soon as next April.

Becher said the DNR has monitored the nest for several years and that it would continue to do so even after Campbell Ewald moves to office space attached to Ford Field in Detroit this winter.

Iain Lanivich, Campbell Ewald’s digital group creative director, said the company shut down the live video stream of the falcons in mid-July as activity at the nest subsided and the birds spent more time in flight.

“The biggest bummer is that it ended as a sad story,” Lanivich said. “It was a nature reality show played out online. It was an experience we were able to kind of offer up to everyone that you don’t really get a chance to see.

“Really, I can’t think of an emotion it didn’t hit on. You had life and death, and happiness and suspense and anticipation through the whole journey. I didn’t anticipate how much of a following it was going to get. It was kind of a bummer it ended the way it did,” Lanivich said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.