Peregrine falcons defend chicks when biologists visit at the Cathedral of Learning
The Pennsylvania Game Commission retrieved and banded two state-endangered peregrine falcon chicks from their squawking mother on the 40th floor ledge of the Cathedral of Learning on Friday.
The peregrine matriarch known as Hope bit a broom held by a PGC biologist who tried to gently brush her aside to retrieve her young falcons, ages 23 days and 24 days respectively.
"She wasn't having any of it," said Kate St. John of Greenfield, a PGC monitor for local peregrines and author of the local nature blog "Outside My Window."
"Hope was an incredibly protective mother who stretched one of her wings over her second chick to protect it," she said.
Hope's mate Terzo who was out protecting the pair's territory, heard the commotion and zoomed in to make an appearance.
It's peregrine falcon banding season.
PGC biologists fan out across the state during a short window of time each spring to band as many of the peregrine youngsters as possible just before they are old enough to fly.
Biologists attach leg bands from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the young birds with identifying letters, numbers and colors linked to documentation on their sex and health, and when and where they were hatched.
Banding helps scientists gauge endangered wildlife population trends and other important information.
On hand Friday for the banding was Dan Brauning, PGC Wildlife Diversity Division chief, and Bob Mulvihill, ornithologist with the National Aviary. Both men are editors of the "Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania," published by Penn State University Press.
A longtime peregrine aerie, the Cathedral of Learning has hosted more than a few breeding pairs of peregrine falcons since 2002.
Indeed, one of the chicks of the first clutch hatched at the Cathedral is the male Louie, patriarch of the downtown Pittsburgh peregrine falcon couple.
All their comings and goings have been documented by monitors such as St. John as well as two National Aviary webcams capturing the peregrines' interesting family life at the Cathedral and downtown.
The drama has been nonstop as Hope ate two of her chicks this spring when they were hatching. The last two hatched normally and Hope has been a devoted mother ever since.
Friday's examination by Veterinarian Robert Wagner of the University of Pittsburgh and banding only took about 20 minutes.
Both young birds, identified as females, are in good health, St. John said.
"One has a set of lungs making her as loud as her mother," St. John said.
All the while during the banding, Hope perched outside the window looking in, likely able to hear the cries of her chicks.
When the biologists went back outside to return the chicks, Hope was waiting for them.
"She started screaming at the banders again," St. John said. "Terzo was zipping back and forth over their heads."
Both young birds were returned to the nest without incident.
They will likely fledge in the next several weeks and will fly and hunt with parents in the skies over Oakland.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.