It all began in 1996, when a male peregrine was seen in Harrisburg. Officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission scouted downtown locations for a suitable site to place a nest tray to see if it would attract a pair of peregrine falcons. The Rachel Carson State Office building was selected since it had a covered ledge 15 stories above the ground. A nest tray was placed on the ledge, and the following spring, the male returned with a female peregrine. The falcons pair-bonded and hopes were high that they would reproduce. After failing to produce eggs during both the 1997 and 1998 nesting seasons, it became clear that more information was needed regarding the history of these two birds. Because the male was not banded, there was no way to know his origin. Since the female was banded her origin was quickly determined. It was learned that her father was an escaped falconer's bird and a hybrid. Because the young female was of hybrid origin, she was probably infertile.
After careful consideration and under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the female was live captured on April 28, 1999, and taken to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. In 2003, Cleo, as she was named, was transferred to the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Verona, Allegheny County as an education bird.
Meanwhile, back in Harrisburg, within one week of removing the first female, the male was seen with a new female. From her alphanumeric leg band information (4/4), we learned that she fledged from the Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia in 1998. She was the first falcon that fledged from a bridge to be rediscovered at another nest site, in Pennsylvania. In 2000, the pair produced four offspring.
Are the original falcon pair still nesting on the building?
No. In December 2004, the original male peregrine was discovered with an injured wing at the Harrisburg Transportation Center located across the street from the building. After treatment at a local wildlife rehabilitator, the original male falcon became an education bird at Hershey Park Zoo America, since he was not able to be released into the wild. He later escaped back into the wild after a squirrel chewed through netting in his cage. The current male falcon (W/V) arrived in March 2005 and fledged from the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia in 2003.
The current female is the fourth female peregrine falcon to nest at the Harrisburg site. The first female (hybrid) was here from 1997-1998; the second female (4/4) nested from 1999-2010; the third female, who was not banded, nested from 2010 – 2012; and the current female (48/AE) first appeared at the ledge in June 2012.
Where are the falcons from?
By their leg band codes, our current female (48/AE) fledged from the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Turnpike Bridge over the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 2009. Our resident male fledged in 2003 from the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia.
What do falcons eat?
A peregrines diet consists of song birds and other migratory birds. Living in an urban environment, the resident falcons tend to feed on pigeons, blue jays, woodpeckers and other small birds.
How fast do Peregrine falcons fly?
Peregrine falcons are strong fliers and reportedly the fastest bird in the world. Their average cruising flight speed is 24 to 33 mph, increasing to 67 mph when in pursuit of prey. When stooping, or dropping on prey with closed wings, it has been calculated that this falcon can achieve speeds of over 200 mph. That's approximately 50 mph faster than the top speed of the Golden Eagle.
How long do falcons live?
Mortality, is very high in the first year of life -- between 60 and 80 percent.. Those few peregrines that survive to old age may reach 12 to 15 years. Most peregrines become sexually mature at two or three years of age.
How can you tell the male and female falcon apart?
It can be difficult. Like some other raptors, the female is larger than the male, but their markings and colors are very similar. The male has a colored leg band that is black and red (W/V), while the female's leg band is black and green (AE/48).
Do you name the falcons?
No. We purposely do not give names to the peregrines since they are wild animals and not like pets. Some scientists worry that giving human names to wild animals leads to anthropomorphizing which means talking about a thing or animal as if it were human. We identify the peregrines by their band numbers. Though this is the case, if a falcon becomes injured and cannot be released back to the wild, it is often given a name at the rehabilitation center. This was the case for the building's first male, named Carson.
How many adults have been at this ledge?
There have been two males and four female adult peregrines.
Where do they go in the winter?
The female stays at the ledge throughout the year. During the last couple of years, the male has stayed at the ledge year round as well. The climate is suitable, and there is plenty of prey available throughout the winter. In previous years, the male would leave the area around December and return in February. We're not really sure where he would go. That said it's risky to leave the nesting area, as another peregrine may try to take over the site.
Why are they banded and what do the bands mean?
Banding young peregrines provides important information on the birds' movements and is essential to understanding their habitat needs year-round. The nestlings are removed from the nest box or natural nest site for a short time and metal bands are placed on the bird's legs. These bands are uniquely lettered and numbered so that if the falcons are observed later, or found injured or dead, they can be identified. When the birds are banded, their overall health and condition are evaluated.