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Cathedral peregrine finds new beau

| Friday, March 25, 2016, 11:49 a.m.
Courtesy of National Aviary falcon cam at the University of Pittsburgh
Hope the peregrine falcon, formerly a nester under the Tarentum Bridge, is seen at the nesting box atop the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in Oakland.

A new beau has come a-courtin' Hope, the peregrine falcon nesting at the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

Hope — widowed suddenly last week — could in one fell swoop cease being a single mom and become part of a new couple with its own brood.

That depends on nature taking its course with Hope and a new young male peregrine. The pair have been spotted flying and mating at the University of Pittsburgh's skyscaper this week, much to the delight of peregrine watchers.

With luck, Hope might be laying eggs in two weeks. Those new eggs will blend with her other three eggs laid from her late mate, E2, who likely was hit by a car.

“It's drama — it's peregrines,” said Kate St. John, of Pittsburgh, the longtime monitor of the seven pairs of Pittsburgh peregrine falcons currently nesting in the greater Pittsburgh area. “They live fast — and they are the fastest animal on earth.”

The birds remain on Pennsylvania's endangered species list.

It's happened before: Young from two different couples were raised in 2010 at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. When Dori the peregrine ousted Tasha, she incubated two of Tasha's eggs and three of her own with Louie, Tasha's ex. All five young fledged in the nest.

Besides wooing Hope, the new falcon is asserting himself, defending territory around the cathedral. He bopped a resident red-tailed hawk twice Thursday, relegating the less-dynamic raptor to lower airspace.

“He is a gent who is really energetic,” St. John said.

He'll have to be to keep up with Hope, who has quite the backstory. She spent a number of years living in the superstructure of the Tarentum Bridge, where she raised two sets of young.

But Hope lost her latest mate early in 2015. She was seen spending time with a new, very young mate.

But she apparently had bigger plans and got her opportunity: Dorothy, the elderly, long-reigning Cathedral queen — and mother of 43 — went missing early last November. She likely is deceased.

E2 started advertising for a new mate and Hope showed up on the live webcam of the Cathedral of Learning nest, called a “scrape,” on Nov. 30.

The two courted, flying together and displaying other romantic gestures such as when E2 brought a meal to Hope at the scrape.

But there was a female peregrine still showing up at the Tarentum Bridge at the same time believed, but not confirmed to be, Hope.

“She could have been playing both at a time, going from spending most of the time at Pitt, where she is now clearly committed,” said Art McMorris, peregrine coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Hope made the permanent leap to the Cathedral of Learning and bonded more with E2, who died as Hope was laying three of their eggs.

“Hope has been in the business of attracting a mate,” St. John said. “Now she is at a prime nesting site and attracting a mate is not difficult.”

Better yet, Hope can delay incubating her eggs from E2 for weeks, so there's a good chance that with new eggs with her new beau, all will likely be viable, McMorris said.

Additionally, it's early enough in season for Hope to lay another clutch of eggs as many of the state's peregrine don't have eggs yet.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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