UT Tower falcon could finally be settling down

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This Valentine’s Day, things are looking up for the Peregrine falcon who calls the University of Texas at Austin Tower home. She may have a shot at lasting love.

“Tower Girl,” as she is lovingly referred to on campus, settled down in a nesting box on the UT campus eight years ago. She’s the first Peregrine falcon to nest successfully in a nesting box in Texas.

Birdwatcher Chris DuCharme travels from his Bastrop home most days during this season to catch a glimpse of the feathered lady around the tower. To DuCharme’s dismay (and Tower Girl’s), there have been many suitors over the past few years but they all appear to have been migratory birds. None of her suitors stuck around, they appeared uninterested in commitment. Some even left her mid-spring, after she’d laid eggs.

DuCharme explained that once these falcons find partners, they mate for life. Tower Girl has been looking for a good guy to settle down and raise a family with for years.

A photo of Tower Girl's eggs in March 2016. She laid eggs in March 2016 and March 2017, but none hatched (Photo courtesy Neil Crump).

“She’s trying to do what she does: have chicks. And to see that not happen over the years and her constant search for mates, it is a story of… so much sadness,” DuCharme said. “You’ll know when you see the plight of this single bird that lives in Austin.”

This year, the bird watchers around campus noticed a male falcon that seems to be sticking around. They’ve even caught the two on camera mating on Jan. 26.

“It’s more encouraging behavior than we’ve seen in previous years,” DuCharme said.

DuCharme hadn’t seen this new beau in a few days so he was worried their flame had been extinguished, but in a Valentine’s Day surprise, Tower Girl was visible at her usual perch through the fog, talking to and flying around with her love interest.

“These birds pair for life so we expect them to stay together for a while,” said Tim Kiett, professor of integrative biology at UT Austin.

He watches Tower Girl often and brings his students to do the same.

“This is a unique bird, because she’s chosen Austin as a place to live, this is not their range where they’re typically found,” explained Keitt. He said the presence of these birds in Austin could be an indicator that their numbers are bouncing back statewide. The UT Tower is similar to the cliff faces her fellow falcons like to nest on, with the added benefit of the nesting box the university placed on the tower.

Right now, Keitt believes this couple is taking time to bond, heading toward becoming mates.

“Once there’s a pair bond, there’s a set of rituals in which they will interact with each other, part of that is flying–they will soar, the male will do aerobatic type flights to impress the female and he sometimes will bring her prey that he’s captured,” Keitt said.

DuCharme says Tower Girl also flies a few blocks south where there is another male falcon she sees. He says she treats the downtown boy more like a companion and appears to be more amorous around her new Romeo at the tower.

“There is the human comparison which everyone likes to take note in, but they are animals, I have no clue what they think,” laughed DuCharme.

For DuCharme, his fascination with the bird is inseparable from his own love story. His wife Caryl Dalton died six years ago after battling glioblastoma and he credits her for encouraging him to pursue bird watching.

Photos are important to DuCharme, he lost all of his prints of him and his wife in the Bastrop Complex Fire in 2011. He says in the evenings when he is quietly editing bird photos, that’s when he thinks of her the most. She’s on his mind whenever he’s photographing Tower Girl too. “She’s not here, but she is. That all sounds really personal, it really is sort of a connecting thing.”

Which is why he pours his energy into chronicling Tower Girl’s love story. “Connecting the dots to get to this point took years to get there, and now all of a sudden, we’ve got a story,” DuCharme said.

In the next few weeks, scientists, birdwatchers and Longhorns alike will find out if this romance will pan out for the long haul. DuCharme says the big dream would be for the two to hatch eggs this spring.

The University of Texas installed a web camera near Tower Girl’s nesting box Wednesday. UT staff members say they hope to have it up and running as soon as they can make sure the live stream capabilities work.

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