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Peregrine falcon chick meets grim fate at Pitt's Cathedral of Learning

Mary Ann Thomas
| Friday, April 29, 2016, 10:08 p.m.
'Hope,' the Cathedral of Learning peregrine falcon, with her first nestling and two unhatched eggs. Hope moved to the University of Pittsburgh landmark after previously living in the superstructure of the Tarentum Bridge.
Courtesy of the National Aviary peregrine webcam
'Hope,' the Cathedral of Learning peregrine falcon, with her first nestling and two unhatched eggs. Hope moved to the University of Pittsburgh landmark after previously living in the superstructure of the Tarentum Bridge.

The soap opera of the Cathedral of Learning peregrine falcons took a macabre turn Friday as the recently re-mated falcon “Hope” fed one of her newly hatched chicks, believed not to be fully developed, to another one of her chicks.

It was a week of parental birds of prey feeding the city's favorite webcam darlings food that we don't like to think about.

The Pittsburgh Hays bald eagles brought a dead cat to the nest to feed to their young earlier this week. Although best known for eagle-eying fish and then plucking them out of the water with amazing precision, eagles eat road kill and other carrion and take small mammals such as squirrels, bunnies, rats and an occasional cat.

However, infanticide and cannibalism are unusual for peregrine falcons, according to Art McMorris, peregrine falcon coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“It's certainly not normal for an adult to kill a nestling, but we don't know what really happened,” McMorris said. “My guess is there was something abnormal about the chick and the female detected it.”

Indeed, the new chick lacked down and didn't look completely formed, according to the Facebook page of Pittsburgh Falconuts, a local group dedicated to monitoring the region's seven peregrine falcon nests.

The Cathedral of Learning nest is streamed live on a webcam sponsored by the National Aviary.

Kate St. John of Pittsburgh, a longtime monitor of the cathedral peregrines and a local natural history blogger, said, “I've never seen it before.I have no idea of why it happened.”

Cathedral nest soap opera

It's been a strange year at the Cathedral: Hope, an experienced mother who raised two clutches at the Tarentum Bridge, left her newest mate earlier this year for “E2,” a recent widower whose prolific mate, the long-reigning “Dorothy” — mother of 43 — presumably died.

Then E2 died unexpectedly, but not before Hope started to lay his three eggs. Then “Terzo,” a 3-year-old and likely first-time father from Cincinnati, wooed Hope.

All have been waiting for the new couple's four eggs to hatch — three fathered by E2 and one by Terzo.

The first nestling hatched Friday morning, about a week before local watchers were expecting it. The second hatched later in the day, shortly after 2 p.m.

The third egg is expected to hatch within a day, and the fourth egg, the one fathered by Terzo, could hatch in about a week, according to McMorris.

St. John is cautious about the success of the remaining eggs. Given the disruptions at the nest, there hasn't been continuous incubation of the eggs early in the nesting season, she said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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