Peregrine falcon Tower Girl becomes UT’s resident reality TV star

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Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

In addition to “UT’s favorite avian resident,” the University’s beloved Tower Girl can now add “TV star” to her resume.

Earlier this week, UT’s Biodiversity Center installed a live camera on the Tower, giving the public a rare glimpse into Tower Girl’s nest box.

“It’s unique to get such an up-close view of a wild animal that flies very, very fast and is difficult to see up close,” said Timothy Keitt, a professor of integrative biology at UT. “We get to really see her from a good vantage point.”

Tower Girl is a peregrine falcon, a species currently listed as endangered in Texas. The species nearly went extinct a couple of decades ago due to poisoning from DDT and other pesticides, but their status has been restored in most parts of the country.

“They’ve been a real success story,” Keitt said. “They were able to bounce back, and now they’re relatively common in Texas during migration periods.”

However, Central Texas is a little out of their normal breeding range, and Tower Girl is the only known resident peregrine falcon in Austin, Keitt said.

The Biodiversity Center hopes people will gain a greater appreciation for the beauty and diversity of life by viewing the Falcon Cam, said David Hillis, director of the Biodiversity Center. At the very least, the Falcon Cam will help people learn about the center and its mission, which is to promote and encourage research and education on biodiversity on campus.

The scientists are hoping the camera will show how frequently the falcon is at the Tower, and when she’ll lay eggs, if she ever does.

“If we’re lucky and someday she rears some chicks, we’ll learn about her foraging behavior, like how often she comes back (to the nest), and what kinds of food she brings to the chicks,” Keitt said. “You can learn a lot about the ecology of a species by observing them at the nest.”

As the director of the Biodiversity Center, Hillis said he gets more chances than most to see rare species, so the Falcon Cam is a great way to see a rare species in action.

“Texas has some of the highest diversity of species anywhere in the United States, but many people don’t get the opportunity to learn about it,” Hillis said. “The Falcon Cam changes that, and introduces people to one small aspect of our local biodiversity. Once people get a glimpse of what interesting species we have right here on campus, we hope that will stimulate them to want to learn more.”

Finance sophomore Harika Pancharpulla said because she’s afraid of birds, she thinks this is a unique way to be able to observe and interact with them
from afar.

“Personally, I’m not sure that I would use it,” Pancharpulla said. “Still, I like that I have the option to, if I ever wanted to. I appreciate that it’s there.”

However, Pancharpulla said she’s not sure that watching a falcon would help her get over her fear of pigeons and grackles.

The fact that the camera is up and running is already a huge first step.

“I really think it’s essential that we continue to facilitate or encourage people to be engaged with nature, because if we don’t see it and appreciate it, then it tends to disappear,” Keitt said. “We start to neglect (nature), so if we don’t pay attention to biodiversity, then we don’t notice, and then one day, it’s gone.”

The Biodiversity Center’s live Falcon Cam can be viewed at http://txsci.net/falconcam.