Perched atop the 307-foot UT Tower, “Tower Girl,” the University’s resident peregrine falcon, captivated bird enthusiasts with her first appearance in two weeks on Oct. 3, notably with two other peregrine falcons. Audience members witnessed the social event up close through the Biodiversity Center’s “Falcon Cam.”
Nicole Elmer, the center’s administrative associate, displays one of Tower Girl’s feathers on her desk. Elmer said she witnessed the trio flying around the Tower during the foggy afternoon.
“It was pretty exciting,” Elmer said. “I hadn’t seen her in a long time.”
Integrative biology professor Timothy Keitt, who teaches a class in biology of birds and answers questions about Tower Girl, said it is not uncommon for Tower Girl to host migrating falcons in the fall, which is outside mating season for peregrine falcons.
“In past years, migrating males have visited the Tower and even mated with Tower Girl,” Keitt said. “It’s a bit early as egg laying is typically in April.”
Unlike other peregrine falcons, Tower Girl does not migrate south for the winter. Keitt said this could be due to a scar indicating a possible wing injury.
“It may be something that begins to be painful after a very long flight,” Keitt said. “Birds do strange things. There are many, many exceptions in the bird world and in most of nature itself.”
Spearheaded by Elmer and UT alumnus Bruce Calder, the Falcon Cam went live in March. Calder, who graduated in 1981, has been closely involved with Tower Girl since he spotted her on campus summer 2013.
“This was stunning to me since peregrine falcons are not known to inhabit Central Texas during midsummer,” Calder said in an email.
After constructing multiple nesting boxes, Calder observed Tower Girl with her eggs in the tower nesting box for three years, none of which hatched because they may have been infertile. Calder said Tower Girl has apparently only been “hooking up” with other males passing through Austin, and she will need to form a permanent bond for a successful breeding season.
Calder said if Tower Girl successfully hatches and raises her young to adulthood, it could mark the beginning of a permanent peregrine population in Central Texas. If Tower Girl mothers a new generation of falcons, Calder said he wants the University to take credit.
“It never was about me,” Calder said. “But instead is about UT encouraging the propagation of a rare and formerly endangered species.”