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First peregrine of season returns to Grand Forks

Dave Lambeth of Grand Forks took this photo of Marv (bottom), a male peregrine that first showed up in Grand Forks in 2014, and an unidentified female in March 2016 at the UND water tower. A male believed to be Marv has returned to Grand Forks for another breeding season, his fourth. (Dave Lambeth photo)

A peregrine falcon is back in town, and local birding experts believe it's Marv, the patriarch of Grand Forks' peregrine clan since 2014.

Hatched in 2013 in Fargo, Marv showed up in Grand Forks the next year and mated with Terminator, a female hatched in 2006 in Brandon, Man.

This will be Terminator's 10th breeding season in Grand Forks if she returns to her love nest atop the UND water tower, local raptor expert Tim Driscoll said. Peregrine falcons go their separate ways when they migrate but return to their nest sites the next season.

Males typically are the first to return, Driscoll said.

Driscoll said he first suspected a peregrine was back in town Wednesday, when he found a fresh bird carcass near the UND water tower that showed all the signs of being a falcon snack. The head of the prey was missing, the breast meat was eaten and the legs and wings were intact, Driscoll said.

That's consistent with the way peregrines eat their prey, he said.

Driscoll said he got a call Thursday morning from Grand Forks birder Matt Spoor of the local Audubon group who said he'd just seen a peregrine at the nest box on the UND water tower.

Friday morning, Driscoll paid a visit to the site, and sure enough, there was a falcon sitting on the nest box high atop the water tower.

All the traits

Driscoll, who is a licensed bander, said he wasn't able to get a good enough look at the leg bands to confirm the falcon's identity, but the bird showed all the traits Marv has displayed over the years. He faces the nest box when he sits on the tower, his face is a dark color and the colored right leg band and silver left leg band are consistent with Marv's leg bands.

Driscoll should know because he banded Marv in 2013 in Fargo, naming the male after Fargo TV personality Marv Bossart, who died in April 2013. The bird's tail projections also are similar to Marv's, Driscoll said.

"I don't know 100 percent, but I'd be stunned if it wasn't him," Driscoll said. "We'll get a definite ID in the next few days. I'm pretty sure it's Marv."

Marv showed up March 7 last year and March 9 in 2015, Driscoll said, but recent north winds likely delayed this year's arrival.

"He's maybe four or five days late, but given the weather, as soon as the wind turned to the south, he showed up," Driscoll said.

Awaiting a mate

Time will tell whether this spring's mating season rivals the drama that almost unfolded last year, when a 1-year-old female named Bristol unexpectedly flew into town about two weeks before Terminator, vying for Marv's affections.

The potential love triangle terminated—ahem—when Terminator finally showed up at the UND water tower in late March. Within days, Bristol was spotted with a new male in Winnipeg, where she had been banded in 2015.

If history is any indication, Terminator probably won't be back in town for another 10 days or more. She first showed up in Grand Forks on April 9, 2008, with subsequent first sightings April 10, 2009; March 27, 2010; April 7 or 8, 2012; March 26, 2012; March 26, 2013; April 6, 2014; March 29, 2015; and March 24, 2016—her earliest return to date.

"Terminator will be going on her 10th year here," Driscoll said. "She's had four babies the last two years, so I think she's in her prime."

Peregrine populations have been on rebound since use of the chemical DDT decimated the species in the 1950s, thanks to captive breeding programs and reintroduction efforts across North America, Driscoll said. Grand Forks and Fargo have the only known nesting peregrines in North Dakota, while Minnesota has more than 50 nesting sites across the state, the Department of Natural Resources says.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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