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May 17, 2013

Creative campaign offers glimpse of falcon’s nest in Warren

Camera shares live footage of rare birds on the roof of Campbell Ewald’s Warren office

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Creative campaign offers glimpse of falcon’s nest in Warren
A peregrine falcon feeds hatchlings atop Campbell Ewald’s office tower in Warren May 15.

WARREN — It was an event years in the making, but early May 14, a peregrine falcon hatchling emerged from one of three eggs laid a month earlier atop Campbell Ewald’s Warren office tower. The next day, there were two.

Thanks to the ad agency’s patience, some long-term planning and the creative use of technology, the world was able to watch the scene unfold high over Van Dyke.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Mary Evans, a PR and communications specialist with Campbell Ewald. “We started seeing peregrine falcons in 2004 and we saw them sporadically for the next couple years. In 2006, an employee here at Campbell Ewald took it upon himself to build a nest box.”

That man is Paul Lenney, Campbell Ewald’s property manager at the tower on Van Dyke, south of 13 Mile Road.

Lenney said he built the rooftop nest box in 2006 at the suggestion of a biologist from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He also installed an infrared camera at that time.

The company reported no sightings in 2006, sporadic sightings of single birds in 2007 and no sightings again over the next two years. Two DNR-banded falcons were observed hunting and showing nesting behavior in 2010, but no eggs were laid.

The falcon buzz died down again in 2011 and 2012, with only periodic sightings of single birds. The camera was even shut off.

But on April 17, Lenney turned it back on after he took a trip to the roof and caught a glimpse of a pair of falcons nesting with three eggs.

“I was ecstatic. I’ve been waiting a number of years for this,” Lenney said May 16. “I was telling the team, ‘I feel like grandpa. I built the playhouse, and now there’s kids in it!’ It’s a cool feeling.”

Iain Lanivich, the digital group creative director at Campbell-Ewald, said the company quickly hatched its own plan for a PR campaign built around the falcons.

With two of the three eggs hatched as of May 15, Lanivich said the #CEFALCONS Tumblr page had generated more than 35,000 visits. The site features a real-time falcon camera, video clips and a meme generator.

Lanivich said activity jumped from 200 viewers at a time before the hatchlings emerged, to between 400 and 600 concurrently throughout the day. He said the majority of those viewing the camera were initially in Michigan, but interest has since migrated throughout the U.S. and to 15 countries.

“We knew we had something special,” Lanivich said. “We knew we had to figure out how to get a live feed. Ultimately, we just built a campaign around it. We knew it had to be a fun campaign. We knew it had to be sharable. We wanted people to relate to the falcons, just like parents.”

While viewers flock to view the falcons and their newborn offspring online, wildlife experts are preparing to add the birds to the region’s falcon family tree.

Christine Becher, the southeast Michigan peregrine falcon nesting coordinator with the DNR, said peregrine falcons have been endangered in the state since the 1960s.

“During the ’50s and ’60s, DDT was used on crops and that caused, just like with eagles, it caused thinning of the eggshell, and when birds would sit on the eggs, they would crack and of course they would not be viable,” Becher said. “The population plummeted.”

Becher said she currently oversees 14 active falcon nesting sites in southeast Michigan and that the DNR monitors other inactive sites.

She said falcons typically stay where they nest 12 months out of the year to protect the site.

“What happens in some cases is a male or a female will get kind of kicked out of his or her territory. Another bird will come in and fight for their territory, and sometimes, the other bird that had been there doesn’t win,” Becher said. “As someone pointed out the other day, they may not mate for life but they might die trying. In other words, they’ll protect that nest site to the death sometimes.”

Becher said she’s been working with falcons for the DNR for four years. She works alongside Barb Baldinger, a nine-year volunteer with the falcon nesting program.

A total of 292 falcon chicks have been banded for identification in southeast Michigan since 1993. The DNR monitors nesting sites and observes banded falcons to learn more about their travel and breeding patterns.

Becher said the hatchlings on the Campbell Ewald building would be banded by a DNR biologist when they are about three weeks old, probably as the parent falcons watch close by.

“We visit the nest site, we take the young chicks and make sure they’re healthy, make sure they’re in good shape, and we put a U.S. Fish and Wildlife band on their right leg, which has a special number that only that bird has,” Becher said. “It’s kind of like a Social Security Number.”

Becher said the Michigan DNR also puts a colored identification band on the bird’s left leg.

“That particular number-letter sequence is again, as with a Social Security Number, it’s only given to one bird,” Becher said. “It will be on the leg the life of that bird. If we were to see that bird in another place with strong binoculars or where that number can be read, we can tell where the bird hatched, how old it is and perhaps its lineage by that number.”

The collected information is stored in a database accessible at www.midwestperegrine.org/

Becher said both of the Campbell Ewald parent falcons are already banded and that the DNR will know more about them once their numbers are identified. 

She said both parents incubate their eggs and will work together to care for the hatchlings atop the building in the days and weeks to come.

Becher said falcons hunt small birds that they catch in-flight and that they typically feed their young by tearing pieces of flesh from the bird carcasses.

She said natural predators of falcons include great horned owls, and that survival rates for hatchlings that eventually grow into fledglings are generally “pretty low” in the first year. Other hazards include thermal updrafts that can blow small birds from the safety of their nests.

Based on the attention they’re getting thus far, footage of the Campbell Ewald hatchings is almost sure to generate continued interest as they grow up.

“I was watching this morning when I got video of the egg hatching. I kind of watched the first feeding this morning before I had to leave,” Becher said May 14. “It’s exciting, even for us.”

To check in on the #CEFALCONS visit http://cefalcons.tumblr.com/.

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