Falcon will be a dad for 14th time Beauregard attracts his fifth mate to nest at downtown building

April 18, 1997|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Defying both bad luck and high-rise renovations, Beauregard is on the job again this spring.

The male peregrine falcon is sharing the incubation of the 14th clutch of eggs he's fathered on a windy ledge of the USF&G Corp. building in downtown Baltimore.

"We anticipate hatching sometime in the next two weeks," said John Barber, vice president of Falcon Asset Management, a USF&G subsidiary. He is also a former Smithsonian ornithologist.

Beauregard has outlasted four mates -- two in the past year. Each time, his lusty cries have quickly drawn a female to his 33rd-floor aerie.

His latest mate is a banded, but still unidentified falcon that arrived during the winter, soon after her predecessor, Tara, was hospitalized at the Baltimore Zoo with a broken leg. The newcomer laid four eggs.

Beauregard's knack for replacing lost mates is very encouraging, Barber said. "There is no stronger sign of a healthy population than to have what's called a floating population of birds flying around looking for suitable nest sites."

The species had been decimated by pesticides, which fatally thinned its eggshells. It were wiped out east of the Mississippi by 1965. A ban on DDT and efforts by the Peregrine Fund to restore the species to the region have slowly brought it back.

In all, 57 young peregrines -- 31 males and 26 females -- have fledged successfully from the USF&G ledge. They have been found nesting from Albany, N.Y., to Ohio and Virginia.

Two birds born to the same Baltimore parents in different years have been rearing young from Virginia's James River Bridge since 1994. Craig A. Koppie, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chesapeake Bay field office in Annapolis, said the pair's offspring have been healthy, despite the inbreeding.

At least nine pairs of peregrines are breeding in Maryland, Koppie said.

In all, scientists now count 170 breeding pairs from Maine to Georgia, and west to the Mississippi. "We're doing quite nicely," Koppie said.

Because the recovery has surpassed its goals in all eastern regions, except the southern Appalachians, the government may remove peregrines from the endangered species list. But in some places they continue to suffer some eggshell thinning blamed on pesticide residues, he said.

In Baltimore, in addition to poisons, roofing tar and traffic, the falcons must now cope with corporate boardroom decisions. USF&G has moved its operations from the downtown tower to Mount Washington. Legg Mason has leased the space and is gutting and renovating everything from the 20th to the 35th floor.

On the 33rd, only a small corner room was left to shield the nest from all the commotion.

Crews hired by USF&G have been gliding up and down the tower's granite facing on hanging platforms, recaulking the stone facing and dodging angry falcons.

"They'll fly by when we get near them, " said John Young, a supervisor for C.A. Lindman Inc.

In February, the birds buzzed within three feet of Young's men as they dangled more than 30 stories up. As required by their contract, the crews finished work near the bird's ledge before the eggs arrived, and the aerial assaults have subsided.

"They'll get more aggressive after the babies are born," Young said. "We'll come back and do some small granite repairs," but not until the young have flown off.

Peregrines are tenacious with a good nest site, Barber said. Historically, some cliff sites were occupied for 8 to 10 generations, with one bird or the other being replaced as needed.

Maryland's restored peregrines have preferred man-made aeries, such as nesting towers on the Eastern Shore, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. A pair on the Francis Scott Key Bridge produces eggs each year, but has never successfully fledged young. New birds have been spotted at Hart-Miller Island and the Route 301 Potomac River bridge to Virginia. None has adopted the species' traditional cliff-side aeries in western Maryland, which now suffer intrusions by rock climbers.

Baltimore's birds have provided Marylanders with a high-altitude soap opera for 19 years. It premiered in 1978 when a female named Scarlett was released by the Peregrine Fund and settled on the USF&G ledge.

Biologists released would-be mates for her, but the matches ended badly. Misha and Blue Meanie proved incompatible. Rhett was poisoned. Percy flew away. Ashley was shot, mended, then killed in traffic.

The fund brought Scarlett captive-bred babies, or eyases, which she raised for four years.

Beauregard, probably a wild tundra peregrine migrating through Baltimore, was drawn to the ledge by Scarlett's cries in July 1983, and began a 12-year record of reproductive successes.

When Scarlett died from an infection in 1984, Beauregard's calls attracted another female, Blythe, in four days. She had been born and banded in New Jersey.

In 1992, Blythe was found dead from unknown causes. But Beauregard's cries lured yet another female, Felicity.

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