Tarentum Bridge falcons defend their nesting success
Breeding success has been spotty for the state-endangered peregrine falcon at the Tarentum Bridge, but not this year.
After four years of no action, a young couple has delivered with two downy nestlings, which have been recently confirmed and photographed by Pennsylvania Game Commission monitors.
“It’s a real good thing they are successful with so many years without,” said Kate St. John of Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood, the regional lead peregrine falcon monitor and author of the nature blog, “Outside my Window.”
In Pennsylvania last year, there were only about 50 breeding pairs of peregrines, the fastest animal on earth that has inspired the design of military jets.
Locally, residents can view the bullet-like precision flight of these aerodynamic raptors as they effortlessly knock a pigeon from the sky or snatch an unsuspecting duck from the Allegheny River, flying as fast as 200 mph in a dive.
Recently, the Tarentum pair aggressively defended their nest when an osprey flew by the bridge.
Gerry Devinney of Penn Hills was there and videotaped the two falcons quickly escorting the osprey out of the area.
“When that osprey got to the bridge, it was like “game on,” and those falcons went after it immediately,” said Devinney.
The peregrines claiming the Tarentum Bridge territory have changed over the last several years.
Mates have been won and lost.
The current couple has been frequenting the bridge area together since at least the beginning of the year.
The male, which is banded, hatched in 2014 at the Westinghouse Bridge, and an unbanded female, are rearing their young in a special nesting box installed on one of the bridge piers.
The longtime matriarch at the Tarentum Bridge, known as Hope, left for the big city three years ago to preside at the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland, where she and her mate reared two young this spring.
The Tarentum Bridge is among seven sites with confirmed peregrine nestlings so far this year in southwestern Pennsylvania, including downtown Pittsburgh, the Cathedral of Learning, the Graff Bridge in Kittanning, Elizabeth Borough, the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, and the Westinghouse Bridge in North Versailles, according to St. John.
The Pittsburgh-area share of breeding peregrines has been holding steady, according to Art McMorris, peregrine coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission .
About one-fifth of the state’s peregrine pairs are in the Pittsburgh area.
Although the peregrine numbers have been increasing steadily, the outcomes at bridges are particularly bad, according to McMorris.
When young birds learn to fly, there are less safe places to land than their traditional nesting habitat on cliffs.
Although there can be heavy losses of young at bridges and in urban areas, enough survive to contribute to the population.
The pesticide DDT wiped out the nation’s eastern peregrines by the early 1960s, followed by a worldwide catastrophic decline of the species.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, along with a host of other agencies and nonprofits, has brought the birds back, and continue to protect and monitor their nest sites.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.