The high ledge where the White and Ravdin buildings meet seems to be a prime spot for nests. Coincidentally – or maybe not – the window looking out onto the ledge is located in the Perinatal Evaluation Center, which is HUP’s triage center for Labor & Delivery.
For many years, red-tailed hawks used this isolated location to bring their young into the world. This year, however, new tenants showed up: peregrine falcons.
The new residents brought excitement to those in the know, including F. Arthur McMorris, PhD, Peregrine Falcon coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He said that these birds are slowly making their way back from near extinction, after being almost wiped out in the 1940s and 1950s by massive DDT spraying. High concentrations of this pesticide in falcons led to thin eggshells which could not support the weight of the incubating bird.
The new baby in the HUP nest brings new hope to the population. “We’re trending in the right direction,” McMorris said. To track the population growth, scientists place a small band around the leg of each falcon. McMorris said that nearly one-fifth of the birds they’ve banded have been observed and identified. “An excellent return rate.”
A friend of McMorris’s originally spotted the nesting falcons in May and told McMorris, who called Dominick Lupica, associate director of Physical Plant. After confirming the birds’ identity with McMorris (from the Penn Tower roof), Lupica got permission from Garry Scheib, HUP’s executive director, to help McMorris retrieve the tiny bird and worked with Ray McDonald from LF Driscoll to get a crane high enough to reach the ledge.
McMorris explained that, while banding is a great idea, removing baby falcons from their nests to accomplish this is not easy while the young chick’s aggressive parents hover nearby. With John Ritchey from LF Driscoll operating the crane –- and PA Game Commission volunteer Ed Mutzer holding a broom to keep the parents from divebombing them -- McMorris carefully reached into the nest and removed the baby. After a ground level medical exam -– and banding -– he quickly returned it to the nest with mom and dad.
The baby took its first flight June 16, McMorris said, and was soon getting “flying and hunting lessons from its parents.” The young bird will remain dependent on them for another month and might ‘fly the coop’ shortly thereafter or hang at home till the fall. “By next year, it will be fully on its own.”
Photo above: Amy Carpenter and Ed Mutzer, Pennsylvania Game Commission volunteers, watch as Art McMorris examines the baby bird and places a band on its leg.