Peregrine falcons prepare to leave Tarentum nest
By Mary Ann Thomas
Published: Monday, July 30, 2012, 2:23 p.m.
With the odds stacked against them, the two young peregrine falcons reared under the Tarentum Bridge have left the nest and likely will leave the area soon.
“They have graduated,” said Art McMorris, peregrine falcon coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The Tarentum Bridge birds — the first documented falcons nesting in the area in recent history — have survived the most perilous time of their lives, the first six weeks.
“Many young falcons die when they slam into buildings because they can't turn well yet or they fall into the river or they leave home too soon and didn't learn how to hunt and they starve,” he said.
McMorris has been tracking the activities of the 29 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in the state this year.
The birds are endangered in the commonwealth, while their populations have rebounded nationally after the pesticide DDT nearly wiped out the birds in the 1970s.
The peregrine falcon is the fastest flyer on Earth as they can reach speeds of 200 mph in a “power dive” as the pluck their favorite prey — birds — in mid-air.
As with all young peregrines, the two juveniles hatched at the Tarentum Bridge have a 50 percent survival rate during their first year, according to McMorris.
Sadly, a young peregrine named “Blue” that fledged recently from the nest atop of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral Of Learning died at the end of June after it flew into Craig Hall, a university building on South Craig Street, according to Kate St. John's blog, www.wqed.org/birdblog/category/peregrines.
St. James, an avid Pittsburgh birdwatcher and lover and compiler of all things peregrine, has visited the Tarentum Bridge to see the falcons, as have many others.
Watching the youngsters
The two young peregrines and their parents have been seen in various locations under and around the Tarentum Bridge.
“They're coming and going a lot,” said Rob Protz, a New Kensington bird watcher who has been keeping almost daily tabs on the peregrine family.
One of the young birds has been named “Screamer,” because it screams a lot.
“We saw both of the ‘juvies' eating at the same time, and Screamer was eating and screaming at the same time,” said Protz.
“We call the other one ‘Quiet,'” he said. “It's not really a name but she is quiet.”
Protz is guessing both juveniles are females because of their size.
The female peregrine falcon, as well as many other birds of prey, is noticeably larger than the males.
Both young peregrines have brown- an-cream-colored plumage but have the same distinctive markings, notably the “sideburns” on the face, as the slate-blue adult birds.
McMorris expects the young falcons to leave the bridge area any day now.
“They will look to hang out at a place where there's a lot of food,” he said.
“One might be in a city where there's lots of pigeons. Another possibility is a salt marsh where there is lots of food too. The will want to find a good place to feed and spend the winter until early spring when they will start wandering more.”
The young peregrines could stop every now and again at their birth place under the Tarentum Bridge, according to McMorris.
But their mother — known as Hope — likely will chase them after a day.
Hope is not expected to leave the Tarentum Bridge, perhaps ever.
“There's no reason for her to leave,” said McMorris. “There's plenty of food around and in the winter, that is the main issue for birds.”
When peregrines pick a nest site, “they pick carefully,” McMorris said.
If the birds successfully raise young, it's unusual for them to abandon the site, he said.
“If one of the adult birds dies, it will advertise for a new mate at same nest site,” he said.
Then, there's always the possibility that other peregrines will interlope and take over a nest site if they can.
Most recently, at the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh in 2010, the resident female peregrine known as Tasha likely was challenged by another female and mysteriously disappeared after laying two eggs.
According to St. John (see www.wqed.org/birdblog/2010/03/25/new-female-peregrine-at-gulf-tower/), a new female showed up from Ohio, who birders named Dori, and mated with the resident male, Louie. They produced three more eggs and brooded over Tasha's two eggs for a total of five young hatched.
Then in 2007, the original adult male named Erie at the Cathedral of Learning was challenged by another male from Cleveland.
Their fight was caught on camera, according to St. John (www.wqed.org/birdblog/peregrine-faqs/question-fidelity-to-their-mates-and-fighting/).
“Erie won, and we thought the other guy flew away,” St. John said.
But later when she and other volunteers dismantled the nesting box temporarily for the cleaning of the Cathedral, they found the other male's dead body.
“Every year, the resident birds are challenged, but not in a major way necessarily,” she said.
“If they are really good at this, they see another bird coming, and they chase them away,” St. John said. “If the visitor thinks there's a chink in the armor, they will press and try to take them over.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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