Beauregard adds band, backup group

June 11, 1998|By Daniel Diamond | Daniel Diamond,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Baltimore's oldest peregrine falcon has a new brood of chicks in his nest high atop the downtown skyline, and some new jewelry on his leg -- thanks to a lucky grab.

Beauregard -- in residence on the former USF&G Building since 1983 -- and his mate of two springs, Artemis, hatched one male and three female chicks, or eyases, at the beginning of May.

Their official caretaker, John Barber, said each of the eyases was given an identification band on May 20. And remarkably, after so many years of ruling over the 33rd-floor ledge without being caught, so was Beau.

"We never thought we would get him," said Barber, a former Smithsonian Institution ornithologist who is chief financial officer of Falcon Asset Management, a USF&G subsidiary named for the birds in residence on the building, now leased by and renamed for Legg Mason.

"Over the past 16 years he's glided too far to grab," Barber said of his long-standing efforts to catch and band Beauregard, adding that this year the wary falcon came closer in defending his nest from human intrusion -- apparently feeling "confident that he would not be caught."

He was the last to be banded of the more than five dozen adult and young falcons that have lived or been born there -- a matter of importance to scientists tracking migration, and even death.

It was 1978 when the first of the falcons, the captive-born Scarlett, decided to make Baltimore home after being released to the wild by Cornell University's Peregrine Fund program. She settled on the south face of what she perceived to be the city's tallest cliff. Scarlett raised 17 foster eyases planted in the nest and went through a series of five mates -- the last one, Ashley, having been killed by a vehicle on the Key Bridge -- before her lonely cries attracted Beauregard.

The sleek couple turned a page on Baltimore's peregrine history when they produced and hatched four fertile eggs, and after Scarlett's death the next year, Beauregard began his long stand -- attracting a succession of four more mates and fathering 47 eyases through this spring.

Artemis arrived in January of last year. She was named by fourth-graders at Friends School recently in honor of the Greek goddess of the hunt.

"By my count, this is his 16th nesting season," Barber said of Beauregard, noting that peregrines are thought to have a breeding life of 10 years. "He is doing remarkably well."

Baltimore's nest has played a key role in the resurgence of the peregrine, a predator that helped keep urban pigeon populations in check before it was wiped out east of the Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s by a residual effect of the pesticide DDT. Last month, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed that the bird be removed from the Endangered Species List.

"We're meeting recovery goals," says Craig Koppie, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in Annapolis. "There are about 12 falcon territories in Maryland. This year, 11 are active, in that they were laying eggs."

Unlike some states, Koppie says, "Maryland has been very stable in producing more than two chicks per nest. That's what we'd like to see."

Baltimore's falcons Beauregard and Artemis can be seen flying off the Legg Mason Building at Light and Pratt streets as they dive at high speed after feathery prey to feed their fast-growing eyases.

In another month or so, when the young ones have learned to fly, they will be driven from the nest by their territorial parents to find their own way in the world. Falcons reared there have turned up over the years nesting in areas as widespread as Albany, N.Y., and Dayton, Ohio.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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