Peregrine falcon population grows by 2

June 10, 1994|By Sascha Segan | Sascha Segan,Sun Staff Writer

At first, all you see is a fuzz ball. It's bigger than a tennis ball, slightly smaller than a softball, and quivering.

Then one little beaked head pokes up, surveys the glorious view of the Inner Harbor and decides it's not all that interesting. The bird that makes up the other half of the fuzzball ruffles its wings, and the two siblings snuggle back together.

The pair of week-old peregrine falcons, in their gravel box on a 33rd floor ledge of the USF&G building in downtown Baltimore, are the 52nd and 53rd chicks to come from the mid-Atlantic's most celebrated nest.

This is the third successful mating season on the USF&G ledge for parents Felicity and Beauregard, who have produced nine eyases together. Two of the eggs that Felicity laid this spring did not hatch because they were unfertilized.

"Fifty-fifty's a little less than we expected, but two out of four's not so bad," said John Barber, an employee of the insurance company and for mer Smithsonian Institution ornithologist. He has been taking care of the USF&G falcons since 1980.

Falcons have been nesting on the ledge since 1979, and breeding since 1984. Beauregard is the father of all 53 eyases hatched there, and his and Felicity's offspring have been identified as far away as Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Barber said.

Peregrine falcons, once near extinction, are slowly returning to a thriving population level on the East Coast, said Glenn Therres, supervisor for nongame and urban wildlife at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. In the 1950s, the pesticide DDT in their prey prevented the falcons from depositing calcium in their eggs, creating brittle eggshells that would break when the females sat on them.

"By 1964, they disappeared as a breeding bird anywhere in the U.S.," Mr. Therres said.

DDT was banned in 1970, and a peregrine restoration effort started in the mid-1970s has paid off.

"We probably have more peregrines nesting in the state of Maryland than we ever did," said Mr. Therres, noting that Maryland now has five breeding pairs.

Three peregrine eyases hatched about three weeks ago beneath the westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge.

Before their near-extinction, peregrine falcons lived on cliffs by the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. But many of the reintroduced falcons have chosen to live on bridges and office towers.

"Tall buildings act as cliff sides. They don't care if it's rock or man-crafted granite," Mr. Therres said.

Like Beauregard and Felicity, many of the peregrines have become city birds because of the abundance of prey. Urban falcons eat pigeons, doves, and starlings, all of which are plentiful in downtown Baltimore, Mr. Barber said.

The young birds will leave the nest by the end of the summer. Before they strike out on their own, they will be given names and leg bands so ornithologists can identify them. Starting about two months from now, spectators will be able to see the falcons' first flights by looking up from McKeldin Plaza at the corner of Light and Pratt streets.

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