Four screeching peregrine falcon chicks squirmed in a cardboard box as a small crowd gathered around, cameras at the ready.
Weighing in at approximately 3 1/2 pounds, the estimated 22-day-old balls of white fluff were banded and sexed.
The difference was obvious to volunteer Glenn Phillips.
“Three are female,” Phillips said, pointing to the particularly vocal chicks. “The males are the quiet ones.”
Males also are smaller.
The difference in size continues to adulthood, with males growing to be only a third the size of females. Volunteers retrieving the four chicks from their roost atop a 180-foot crane at the Port of Olympia had to keep an eye out for a particularly perturbed female peregrine.
It was the chicks’ mother, who after years of watching her young be temporarily taken away seems to be losing patience.
“Mom gets a little bit more aggressive every year,” port employee Mike Crawford said.
Crawford and fellow employee Dan Musser escorted volunteer Jack Lewis up the crane to retrieve the chicks as rain started to fall.
The drizzle was the least of their concerns as the mother falcon dove down, sharp beak and talons at the ready.
It’s not just a threat — the falcon has actually cracked hard helmets in the past while trying to defend her chicks.
To fend her off, Musser and Crawford hold up multicolored umbrellas to protect Lewis as he carefully placed the chicks inside a cloth bag to bring them down for banding.
The tactic worked at first, but the mother falcon became more aggressive as the process went on.
After returning to the ground, Lewis and Phillips slipped two tags on each chick’s leg — one for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the second, called a visual identification tag, with a letter and number to identify each specific falcon.
The chicks start to fly at approximately 45 days old and will be hunting alongside their parents at two months. They are on their own by about six months of age, Phillips said.
The falcons have a lifespan of about 15 years.
Though upset, the chicks were healthy and larger than in previous years.
“They are perfect,” Phillips said.
The entire process took approximately 30 minutes before the trio climbed back up the crane to return the chicks to their nest.
Mother was waiting.
“She’s too comfortable,” Musser said.
The bird screeched from a perch about 10 feet above where the men were working and waited to finally strike once her young were returned to their nest, a box fitted to the crane.
“I was folding (my umbrella) and she was literally coming right at me,” Crawford said. “It’s like she’s saying ‘I’m gonna get you,’ but she should be happy now.”
Because of the tags, Phillips said they know at least two Olympia-born falcons are nesting on bridges in Seattle.