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Peregrine falcons love high buildings

Birdlovers around the world are enjoying frequent visits to a website in Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, to see live camera shots of four peregrine falcon chicks, whose nest is on the roof of one of the city's most prestigious high-rise apartment buildings, the 32-floor Admiralty Towers One.

Adult falcons build their nests on high cliffs and buildings so they can spot unsuspecting pigeons and other birds far below. Peregrine falcons, the world's fastest animals, are said to swoop on their prey at up to 200 miles (322 km) an hour.

In the United States, peregrine falcons' nests have been found on skyscrapers in New York City, Columbus Ohio, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, Atlanta Georgia, and elsewhere.

"Visitors to our website have fallen in love with the [smallest] chick, known widely as 'the little guy' since it hatched on September 25," says Brisbane online editor John Grey. "The chick, now thought to be a male, is still much smaller than his siblings, but is not shy of pushing his way to the front at meal time."

The Courier-Mail newspaper, which runs the website, asked its readers to suggest names for the chick. Hundreds were proposed, including Pom Pom, Cottonball, Twinkie, Samson, Goliath and Atlas.

"Suggested names such as Piglet, Fluffy, Furball or variations on Squirt and Pipsqueak might not fit a creature which, if it survives to adulthood, will become a superb aerial hunter and one of the fastest creatures on Earth," said Grey.

"Other suggestions have ranged from the classical (Thor, Hercules, Brutus) through the historical (Napoleon, Ali, Spitfire) and the literary (Tiny Tim, Lilliput, Mr McCawber, Buckbeak, Falkor and most of the good guys from The Lord of the Rings, particularly Pippin) to the prosaic (Bob and variations on Fred) and the obscure (Jetty No. 1, Phat Tony and The Bomb Diggity).

The chick has now been named Pippin. "Pippin Took was the smallest of the hobbits with Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, " Grey explained. "Cheeky Pippin was always hungry, he grew magically and became a brave warrior ­ and best of all his proper name was Peregrine."

The chicks' father, Frodo (named from the Lord of the Rings: Twin Towers movie) is described as "about the size of a magpie, as fast as a Ferrari, and mad as hell." He has been a viewers' favourite for several years.

Back in the1990s, two peregrine falcons nested on a ledge at Brisbane's Hilton Hotel. A luxury suite was closed until they had hatched their brood. Since peregrine falcons sometimes move each year from one nesting site to another within a 1km radius, they may be the same birds which brought maintenance work on top of the Admiralty Towers One building to a halt in 1999.

"Workers needed to access the roof to check exhaust ­ which extracted steamy air from some of the poshest bathrooms in town ­ but not one of them was willing to put a steel-capped toe out there unless they could be protected from the bird," says a story on the Frodo website.

"A compromise was reached, with workers protected by Wildlife rangers when they ventured on to the roof top."

In the same year (1999) that Frodo moved to Admiralty Towers One, half-way around the world in New York two other peregrine falcons moved from the Bank of New York building on Wall Street to the 14th floor of 55 Water Street, a 54-story edifice that's described as New York's largest office structure, in the concrete canyons of Manhattan island.

"Peregrine falcons mate for life, and Jack and Diane had been joined in falcon matrimony since 1993, producing 19 young over the time span of the relationship," says 55water.com

"The male, 'Jack' was hatched and banded on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1990 and the female, 'Diane' was found and banded by Chris Nadareski of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after flying into a building on Wall Street and suffering from a wing fracture in 1998.

"The two love-birds nested and produced 3 young in 1998, 4 young in 1999 and 5 young in 2001. Unfortunately, Diane who is estimated to be 13 years of age, was found in lower Manhattan with a severely arthritic wing in late 2001 and is now in retirement at Cornell University.

"Jack, left behind with a heavy heart, has had to seek out companionship to weather the cold and blustery days of the Big Apple. Jack has since been joined by Jill, a new falcon on the scene...

"The Peregrine Falcon WebCam has been taken off-line for this season. Please check back around the beginning of spring 2005 for more live footage."

In Pennsylvania, a state adjoining New York, the Department of Environmental Protection website says:

The peregrine falcon nesting project at the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania marked perhaps the biggest single environmental event ever presented through live video on the web, attracting over 34 million hits.

People in Pennsylvania and all over the world shared a very special connection, but not only to a pair of birds raising a family on the ledge of a building, they shared a connection to wildlife and history.

They learned the story of how peregrine falcons became endangered through the use of pesticides; about Pennsylvaniašs rich environmental heritage in the form of Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring that first outlined the dangers of pesticides; they learned how wildlife experts attempt to restore endangered species to our environment; and finally they learned how the Internet and video technology can directly connect them to a shared environmental experience...

A camera mounted on the 15th floor ledge of the Rachel Carson State Office Building broadcast images of the nesting activity to the world via the Internet, first still images then live video and audio. The DEP Peregrine Falcon Page also offered wildlife enthusiasts updated information about the falcons, their history, growth and development, threats and current status...

The Peregrine Falcon Page and the live webcam coverage resulted in over 34.4 million web hits throughout the nesting/fledging period.

The Department of Natural Resources Wildlife site in the neighboring state of Ohio says, "These images are being taken from a peregrine falcon nest ... on a ledge of the 41st floor of the Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus.

"The main view is of the ledge area outside the nest box. The smaller, inset picture is a close-up of inside the nest box. We will change which view is the inset and which is the main picture during the course of the nesting season depending on where most of the action is occurring."

Completing our roundup of falcon websites, we found this 1999 Environmental News bulletin:

A pair of endangered peregrine falcons have produced young and are nesting atop an office building in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday.

The birds can be seen flying around the Peachtree Street area of downtown Atlanta gathering food for their brood of three ...

This particular pair of peregrines has nested in Atlanta for four years, raising three young in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, their nesting attempt failed, due to trichomoniasis, a disease which affects young birds through the food they eat.

State biologists believe that mourning doves, a staple food in the young peregrines' diet, carried the disease. Treatment is available, so the biologists will monitor the young birds and treat them for trichomoniasis pro-actively.

"We hope to prevent the devastating effects of this disease by treating the young early," said wildlife biologist Jim Ozier. "While peregrines have made a comeback from the brink of extinction nationwide, there is still a need to protect their nest sites and encourage population growth in Georgia."

Because of eggshell thinning from pesticides and PCB poisoning, eastern populations of the peregrine were eliminated from the wild in the 1940s. With regulations on pesticides, coupled with the protection and reintroduction of the birds, the peregrine has been slowly making a comeback.

Birdlovers are often called Twitchers. Perhaps bird-cam viewers should be called Switchers. If you are one of them, you'll enjoy clicking on these...
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Story first posted November 2004

Copyright Š 2004

Eric Shackle

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