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Peregrine falcons return to nest, delay Tarentum Bridge project

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
The repaving of the Tarentum Bridge will be delayed until mid-summer to allow for nesting of Perigrine falcons underneath the structure. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Love is in the air and so is the repaving schedule for the Tarentum Bridge.

PennDOT has reaffirmed that it has put the brakes on paving the bridge through July because of the sighting of a pair of endangered birds.

Environmental officials fear that the major construction project could disrupt potential nesting peregrine falcons.

PennDOT originally wanted to finish the $7.7 million Route 366 road project this spring.

Nearly all of the work from the Route 28 expressway just inside Fawn to the foot of the Tarentum Bridge was completed last year. Only work on the bridge remains.

But a pair of peregrine falcons have been seen lately at the bridge. They're believed to be the same pair that nested successfully in the span's super structure last year, rearing two birds.

It's the first documented falcon nesting in the area in recent history, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“Due to the potential nesting of the peregrine falcon, a threatened and endangered species, we will not conduct any work on the Tarentum Bridge between February and July,” said Jim Struzzi, PennDOT spokesman.

According to Struzzi, the remaining paving and additional work will resume in late summer.

PennDOT bridge projects have been postponed before because of peregrine nestings, since bridges and cliffs are among the bird's most favored places to nest.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission contacted PennDOT about the potential of the birds nesting, according to Tracey Librandi Mumma, a wildlife biologist with the commission's Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management.

Mumma's department enforces environmental laws that protect wildlife, especially endangered and threatened species.

The Pennsylvania Endangered Species Act and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protect the birds, nesting or otherwise, according to the game commission.

“PennDOT has more conflicts with peregrines than other agencies and businesses because they have projects on bridges and cliffs,” she said.

Consequently, PennDOT is used to accommodating the birds' nesting season and carefully schedules bridge projects and inspections, according to Mumma.

And the relationship works both ways: “They help us out sometimes by letting us use their cranes to band the falcons,” she said.

This is the time of the year when local volunteer birders monitor the peregrine nest sites from last year, looking for activity.

Alle-Kiski Valley birders have reported to the game commission that they have spotted the female, who they named Hope, regularly.

The male was seen with the female last week, according to Art McMorris, peregrine falcon coordinator for the game commission.

“The birds are renewing their pair bond,” he said, “and ‘adjusting the sheets on the bed.'”

Longtime nesting pairs keep the same territory and nest in the general area.

“They will nest on the Tarentum Bridge — there's no question about that,” McMorris said. “They may move the nest site from beam to beam.”

Peregrines typically lay their eggs in March or early April.

The peregrine falcon, whose populations were decimated by DDT in the 1970s, has made a remarkable recovery. It was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999, according to McMorris.

However, the birds are still endangered in the East where the populations haven't rebounded as robustly.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mthomas@tribweb.com.

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