Eye in the Sky
Operation Falcon tracks migrating Peregrines over the Internet.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
At the core of Dr. Curt Erickson’s conservation philosophy lies the idea of bringing wild animals up close and personal to help change people’s attitudes. Having monitored two Peregrine Falcons on top of Embassy Suites for the past seven winters, the Monterey Peninsula College psychology instructor now wants to share his findings with local middle school students.
Erickson is currently working on two Internet-based projects to bring the birds to the classroom. The first project involves setting up a camera where the birds usually perch and allowing local students to view them live on their computers. The second project involves placing satellite transmitters on the birds and having students track them each spring as they return to their northern nesting grounds.
Erickson may have found some kindred souls to collaborate with on this second project. Earthspan, a Baltimore, Md. wildlife research and education group affiliated with the University of Maryland, has recently developed an educational software program called Eye of the Falcon. The program uses satellite tracking data of migratory animals to teach concepts of ecology, animal behavior, earth sciences, physics, and geography, and to involve students in cutting-edge scientific research.
Users have access to satellite tracking data that have been collected over the past decade on different species, as well as real-time data from ongoing projects.
Eye of the Falcon, which has been operational since 2001, is currently being used in middle schools in Baltimore, New York, Virginia, Montana and Seattle, as well as one school in Chile.
“Seeing the natural history of the species come to life before your eyes is really quite exciting,” says Blake Henke, project manager for Eye of the Falcon. “The kids really get a kick out of how the technology works, like learning how the biologists put transmitters on the birds.”
Erickson, who first contacted the Baltimore-based group last fall, is excited about the potential for interdisciplinary projects within the program.
“Kids in Baltimore were able to track a Peregrine that migrated from Virginia down to Venezuela,” Erickson says. “The students then contacted kids in Venezuela and they started talking to one another. They got on chat rooms and were asking about what life is like in each other’s country. They talked about music, dating…nothing about Peregrines! That exchange is what I think is so wonderful about all of this.”
Bill Murphy, assistant principle at Seaside High School, agrees.
“It would be a tremendous teaching tool, even outside of the biology classes,” says Murphy, a falconer for over 30 years who also monitors the Embassy Peregrines.
If local schools wanted to track the Embassy Peregrines to find out where they migrate to in the spring and if they are indeed a breeding pair, satellite transmitters would have to be placed on the birds. Erickson has discussed such an endeavor with biologists at the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Group, who have the necessary permits, but so far he has been unable to fund such a costly project.
A satellite transmitter for one Peregrine Falcon costs around $3,000, excluding satellite service, which is about $1,200 per year for each transmitter. Erickson has received $2,000 for his project from private donors.