Every year peregrine chicks throughout the state are banded by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and examined by a veterinarian to ensure their good health. Banding provides a way to positively identify the birds after they permanently leave their nests or nest boxes.
Banding peregrine chicks is a time-proven way to track falcons. Identification bands help the Game Commission and other wildlife agencies monitor individual birds after they fledge and disperse. We also are now using satellite telemetry as a means to track these young birds. When young leave the nest in the summer, banding and telemetry will help shed light on where these birds go. It's hoped they will eventually set up their own territories somewhere in Pennsylvania. Banding is the most inexpensive way to keep tabs on these birds, and ultimately learn more about their movements.
It's impossible to determine the origin of nesting peregrines without banding. That band is like a social security number. Through banding, we have learned that Pennsylvania-born peregrines have gone on to nest in Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada.
Peregrines, unable to counter reproduction limitations caused by DDT, disappeared from Pennsylvania about 1960. The insecticide, acquired by peregrines through eating contaminated prey, caused falcons to lay eggs with shells so thin and fragile, they broke when birds sat on them. DDT contamination and the inability to find mates in a sparsely distributed population eventually eroded Pennsylvania's peregrine population until the "duck hawk" was extirpated.
The peregrine falcon was listed as an endangered species by the federal government in 1970. It also was on Pennsylvania's first endangered species list, developed in 1978. Today peregrines remain a state endangered species. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, however, has removed the bird from the federal endangered and threatened species lists. There are currently more than 1,700 breeding pairs in the United States and Canada. Pennsylvania's breeding base of peregrines comprises about a dozen pairs.
The peregrine falcon is now poised to make a lasting comeback in Pennsylvania. Its return is a testament that wildlife management can work wonders. Let's hope its recovery in the commonwealth continues to pattern that of the bald eagle's. When peregrines start nesting on cliffs again, we'll know they've reclaimed their past and bolstered their future.
The peregrine project at the Rachel Carson Building is a joint effort involving the Pennsylvania Game Commission, DEP and the DCNR. In 1996, the agencies placed a nesting box on the 15th floor ledge of the building, located at 400 Market St. in Harrisburg. Soon after, a male and female falcon began nesting in the box. The female didn't produce eggs for two years. Identified as a hybrid incapable of reproducing, she was subsequently removed and placed at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. The male falcon quickly attracted to the nest box a female that was hatched on Philadelphia's Girard Point Bridge.
Peregrine falcons historically nested on cliffs in Pennsylvania. Since their reintroduction, they've targeted tall buildings and large bridges. It is hoped they'll eventually return to their historic nesting sites. Large buildings and city bridges are attractive to peregrines because they're usually located near an outstanding food base of pigeons and wild birds - birds are the main component of the peregrine's diet - adjusted to city living, and the ledges are relatively inaccessible to humans and other predators.
The Game Commission began trying to reintroduce peregrines in the late 1970s. The Game Commission, in cooperation with the Peregrine Fund, participated in the state's first successful peregrine reintroduction in 1981, when four young peregrines were hacked - acclimated in an enclosure and eventually released -on a ledge of the Philadelphia National Bank. Peregrines began nesting in the Commonwealth in 1987. These frontier nesters were all peregrines released in a massive reintroduction effort that began in the 1970s and concluded in the mid '90s. More than 2,000 young falcons were hacked in several states in the program.
The first successful peregrine falcon reintroduction in Harrisburg occurred in 1992 when three peregrine chicks were hacked from the Fulton Bank Building. The chicks were hatched in captivity by Allen and Connie Pollard of Dillsburg from eggs taken from a Philadelphia-area bridge nest with a poor track record for producing young. Improvements to bridge nesting sites - inclusion of gravel-lined nest boxes - have increased nesting success on Philadelphia bridges since then.
Peregrines were never common breeders in Pennsylvania, but ornithologists believe they historically nested at 36 sites, mostly cliffs. Females are larger and heavier than males. Both males and females participate in incubation and young-rearing chores.
Peregrines are predators of small to mid-sized birds. The Harrisburg pair has shown a preference for pigeons and starlings. Peregrines, commonly referred to as the "world's fastest bird," are strong fliers and can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph when diving for prey, which they grab in flight. In normal flight, peregrines travel at 40 to 50 mph.