Photograph by Daniel Miller
Master of the skies
Powerful and fast-flying, the Peregrine Falcon hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. The speed of a peregrine has been said to reach 175 miles per hour or more. Experiments conducted by scientists put the bird’s diving speed at approximately 200 miles per hour and level flight at approximately 62 miles per hour.
Once virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century, peregrine falcons have benefited from recovery efforts and made an incredible rebound. They’re now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas.
Placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970, the American peregrine falcon has been successfully introduced into many eastern U.S. states, but Ohio’s first nesting pair wasn’t identified until 1988 at a downtown Toledo site. Since the birds in the wild prefer high rocky ledges to build their nests, tall buildings make an ideal urban habitation for them. Statewide, well over two dozen breeding pairs are recorded.
The species’ rebound has made it one of the conservation movement’s success stories and it was removed from the endangered species list in 1999, although it is still a legally protected bird.
Only homegrown falcons get the UT welcome mat rolled out for them! The other variety, headquartered at BGSU down the road, knows well enough not to tempt Rocket Power!
The two adult peregrines who have made UT their home were first observed frequenting the University Hall Tower in the late winter of 2006. Photographs and a visit from the Ohio Division of Wildlife seemed to confirm that the two were a mated pair, so in March 2007, a team from Wildlife District Two Office installed a nesting ledge for the birds. The peregrines accepted it and started a nest that resulted in three eggs, which hatched that May.
Leg bands identified the adult male as Allen, hatched in Lima in 2004, and the adult female as a 2003 hatchling of the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning (which resembles the University Hall Tower!). Since birds banded in Pennsylvania are not given names, UT has bestowed an honorary name on her: Belle, as she raised her brood in the University Hall (Bell) Tower.
As of spring 2013, this pair has successfully raised 20 offspring, all of whom have left the nest to establish territories and nests of their own. Although first-year mortality is high for young peregrines, at least one of Belle and Allen’s brood has established a nest: Chayton, who was hatched at UT in 2007, mated with a female named Big Red and they’ve successfully raised two broods atop a municipal building in Jackson, Mich.
Sadly, Belle did not return to the nest for the start of the 2015 breeding season. In April 2014, at the age of 11, she had successfully fought off an attempt by another female to take over the nest, and at least one naturalist thought that she may have already had some vulnerability that younger birds would try to exploit. In 2015, Allen mated with a new female, unofficially named Liadan (Gaelic for grey lady), who does not have a leg band to identify her age or hatch site.
Family guys and girls
This year’s chicks will be learning to fly in the spring. Gradually, they’ll have become masters of at least their territory’s air; keep a sharp eye upward and you may be rewarded with the sight of the young birds’ acrobatic flights as they interact with their parents, each other and the occasional angry robins who sometimes harass the new flyers — at least until the peregrines learn to hunt for themselves. The process of going airborne has its risks, so if you happen to see a young peregrine on the ground, call UT Grounds at 419.530.1011 so personnel can return the fledging flier to the safety of the nest.
The adult peregrines patiently teach their fledglings (birds who have fledged, or achieved flight) the ins and outs of obtaining their own food, and if you spend some late-afternoon/early-evening time on Centennial Mall, you can see the dinnertime rituals that prove what superb hunters peregrines are.
Like any child, the young peregrines prefer to let their parents feed them, and will sit atop a perch on a UT building and “cry” for a snack.
By late September, however, the adult peregrines will have taught their brood the skills to survive; nature will do the rest, and the young birds will be drawn to migrate. Peregrines — the word itself is derived from “wanderer” or “traveler” — migrate vast distances, as far as Central America. If there is sufficient food available, the adult peregrines often remain at the University for the winter.