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Peregrine falcons hang around Tarentum Bridge

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 1:16 a.m.
Steve Gosser/ For the Valley News Dispatch
A peregrine falcon flies under the Tarentum Bridge last month. Photo taken March 22, 2014.
Steve Gosser/ For the Valley News Dispatch
A peregrine falcon flies near the Tarentum Bridge last month. Photo taken March 22, 2014.

After an unsuccessful bid last year, the state-endangered peregrine falcon is back nesting at the Tarentum Bridge.

But the fastest-flying bird on earth never really left. Birders have been watching the Tarentum pair all winter.

One or the other has been seen darting around the skies in Tarentum chasing pigeons — their favorite prey — or stalking them from the antennas of apartment buildings on First Avenue in Brackenridge.

In Pennsylvania, peregrines remain at their nest sites year-round, according to Art McMorris, peregrine falcon coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“Once they establish a territory, they hang onto it forever,” he said. “They don't mess with success.”

This will be its third known nesting in the five years that the birds, particularly the female known as Hope, have been around.

The Tarentum peregrines are a power couple that, literally has stopped traffic.

PennDOT had to reschedule a bridge reconstruction project on the Tarentum Bridge until after the nesting season of the peregrines late last summer.

The peregrines are afforded such protection because of their status as a state-endangered bird.

There are only about 43 known nesting pairs in the commonwealth.

The peregrine is no longer considered endangered nationally because they have rallied in the West and Alaska. But that's not the case in the Northeast, where the birds have been slow to recover.

The peregrines' population crashed because of DDT, the now-banned insecticide.

About one-fifth of the state's known breeding pairs of peregrines reside in the Pittsburgh area, which, oddly enough, isn't known as a historical breeding grounds for the birds.

“Our aim is to get the peregrine falcon to where it is no longer endangered,” said McMorris, who added that the population has continued to increase in the state.

Tarentum's peregrines had a tough time of it last year. McMorris and another biologist came up empty when they were lowered by a crane into the superstructure of the Tarentum Bridge to band the young peregrines.

All they found was an unhatched egg.

McMorris and Rob Protz, a Brackenridge resident and volunteer nest monitor for the game commission, are hoping for a more productive year in Tarentum.

“Who needs TV when you have peregrine falcons?” Protz said. “It was so much fun watching the fledglings two years ago fly around. We got to watch the young ones chase great blue herons, boats, geese and even some people in kayaks.”

Peregrines will incubate their eggs for an average of 35 days, with the young leaving the nest 40 to 45 days after that, in June and July, according to McMorris.

When the birds leave the nest, they are totally dependent on their parents for food.

“Parents give their young flying and hunting lessons,” McMorris said.

“If the young leave too early, before 30 days, they've not graduated,” he said. “They do not have the ‘streetwise' knowledge to survive.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mthomas@tribweb.com or 724-226-4691.

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