Peregrine falcons' fledgling is returned to Bay Bridge nest Young female was rescued after 180-foot fall into water

July 12, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

A family of peregrine falcons was reunited yesterday when a fledgling bird that had fallen into the Chesapeake Bay a week ago and was cared for at the Baltimore Zoo was returned to her nest on the Bay Bridge.

One lane of bridge traffic was closed for 15 minutes yesterday morning while the bird was returned to the nest below the roadway in the center of the westbound span of the bridge.

The bird, a 49-day-old female, was one of two young falcons born to the nesting pair at the bridge this year. Both young birds had been banded June 13 by Craig Koppie, a biologist with U.S. Fish HTC and Wildlife Service who is also the mid-Atlantic region peregrine coordinator. Koppie said the female fledgling was probably trying her first flight when she fell between two boats last week and was rescued by a fisherman.

"The bird was very lucky," he said. Had not the fisherman rescued her, she probably would have drowned after the 180-foot fall from the ledge where the nest is, he said.

The bird was taken to the Baltimore Zoo, where head veterinarian Mike Cranfield cared for her during her weeklong stay. The falcon's protein count was low, he said, but she was otherwise healthy.

"It ate very well in captivity -- three baby chickens and a mouse every day," he said. "We were concerned it might get too fat to fly."

After a week of chicken-and-mouse banquets, Cranfield said, the bird was judged ready to go home. So he and Koppie took her to the bridge yesterday morning. Koppie held the bird and walked toward the nest.

"The parents got stirred up and started screaming," Cranfield said. "As soon as he put it down, it took off and flew around with the parents."

Koppie said, "I put it on the ledge. It ran straight out to the air, caught the wind real nice and flew. It was a good day."

There are nine known nesting pairs of peregrines in Maryland. Historically, the birds have nested in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, but they were close to extinction along the Atlantic coast 20 years ago. Scientists have bred falcons in captivity for release into the wild, and Maryland's nine pairs are among those released.

The fledgling was one of 16 falcons born in Maryland this year, Koppie said.

Young falcons sometimes fail in early flights, Koppie said. Anyone finding a banded bird -- falcons have "a face like a parakeet" and bands on both legs, he said -- should call Fish and Wildlife for assistance at (410) 573-4580.

As for the female returned to her family yesterday, Koppie said, "We'll keep our fingers crossed."

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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