Story by Patti Loesche & Ed Deal
Photos by Fergus Hyke
Editor’s note: I was fortunate enough to witness the banding of three of Tacoma’s falcon chicks back in 2018 and it was an event I won’t soon forget. The father, Murray (N-08), was identifiable not only by his ID number but by his one missing toe. These incredible birds will forever be one of Tacoma’s treasures. After being nearly wiped out in Washington State, Murray and his longtime mate, Harriett, played an integral part in their revival. There are more in the skies above Tacoma than you may think and I encourage you to get involved with the Urban Raptor Conservancy and keep an eye out any time you’re out around tall buildings.
We regret to announce the death of an adult peregrine falcon, ID N-08, the long-time resident male in downtown Tacoma. He was recently on the losing end of a territorial fight near what appeared to be his new nest site. A witness said he landed hard. He was picked up and taken to PAWS Wildlife Center, but he was unable to overcome the terrible twins of injury and old age.
N-08 was exactly 19 years old, an extraordinary run for a wild peregrine. The longevity record for a wild peregrine from the USGS Bird Banding Lab is 19 years and 9 months. He was banded 2 June 2004 by Bud Anderson as a 3-week-old nestling on the 11th Street (Murray Morgan) Bridge in Tacoma.
Eleven years later, in March 2015, N-08 reappeared when Fergus Hyke photographed him with a mate in downtown Tacoma and dubbed him Murray. Martin Muller built a palatial nest box at the site, which later became Heritage Bank. There Murray and his fierce mate Harriett (unbanded but readily identifiable by her fury) nested in downtown Tacoma until 2021 and produced many young. As peregrine fledglings do, many died of window hits, but some went on to glory. He is survived by an unknown number of children and grandchildren.
Among his known offspring was male black 38-N, Tacoma class of 2016. 38-N became the resident male at the West Seattle Bridge from 2018 to 2022. (After enduring the 2022 nesting season next to the major West Seattle Bridge repair and fledging three young, 38-N was hit by a car in September and died, later testing positive for avian influenza.) From the West Seattle Bridge site, eight of 38-N’s fledged young—and Murray’s grandchildren—were banded and are not known dead. One of these, male 30-AD, was dubbed “Razor” because he was entrapped by razor wire shortly after fledging. Ed and Patti achieved a never-to-be-repeated rescue when Ed stood on Patti’s back to free the flailing youngster.
Another son of Murray was male 00-N, Tacoma class of 2017. He was found nesting in 2020 on the Agate Pass Bridge between Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. According to Roger Orness, the nest was active in 2021 and was not observed last year. Murray probably has several generations of grandchildren at this site. Also from the Tacoma 2017 clutch, a daughter (“Hope”) barely survived a window hit soon after fledging and could not be released into the wild. She joined the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, as an education bird, where she still lives today.
A 2020 fledgling, 54-AK, made it all the way to Vancouver BC, before she was found dead from a window hit that August.
N-08’s body left us with a couple of messages. Peregrines typically have yellow-to-orange integument (skin), but his cere, tarsi, and talons were not just orange, they were Cheeto orange. Bud Anderson explained that this coloring reflects a keratin-rich diet. Keratin enhances bird color, which is a predictor of mate quality. In studies of kestrels, birds with keratin-enriched, brightly colored skin are better hunters and have better territories. If the same is true for peregrine falcons, Murray was a superstar.
On the dark side, the PAWS vets also found extreme bruising and considered N-08 suspicious for anticoagulant (blood-thinning) rodenticides (ARs). Peregrine falcons are not known rat eaters, but ARs have been found even in this species. He was tested and found negative for anticoagulants. Good.
N-08’s unusually long run as a nesting male underscores how rarely a fledgling lives to adulthood and enters the breeding population. Our ability to band and follow the lives and deaths of many of his young enables a rare long view of such a lineage. Even for a peregrine falcon as successful as this one, lifetime reproductive success is a narrow achievement.
On May 11, 2023, at the downtown site above Murray’s fatal fight, Roger Orness found a new male at the nest box and Murray’s former mate Harriett perched nearby. The king is dead. Long live the king.
-Patti Loesche & Ed Deal