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spectr17
05-27-2008, 08:41 PM
Falcon Banding Conducted Before A Live And Broadcast Audience

5/23/08

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA - With whole world able to watch, thanks to a webcast hosted by the state Department of Environmental Protection on its website, wildlife officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission banded four peregrine falcons from a nest box on a ledge near the top of the Rachel Carson State Office Building on Thursday.

Game Commission officials retrieved the young falcons from their nest on a ledge overlooking Market Street and took them to the auditorium where a numeric metal leg band was attached before a live audience of 35 teachers and 150 central Pennsylvania elementary, middle and high school students, and a worldwide web audience of countless falcon followers. The teachers had attended a Project WILD falcon educator workshop conducted by the Game Commission and DEP, and as part of their classroom activities, had their students follow the falcons' progress online via DEP's website (www.dep.state.pa.us (http://www.dep.state.pa.us/)).

"The bands help to identify and track the birds when they leave the nest," explained Dr. Arthur McMorris, Game Commission peregrine falcon coordinator. "In addition, we weigh and examine the falcons to determine their sex, and check for any health issues before we return them to their nest."

Although peregrines were never really common in Pennsylvania, they historically nested at as many as 44 sites, mostly on cliffs. Some of their former nesting areas included cliffs near Dauphin, Huntingdon, Lewistown, Hyner, Palmerton and other riverside communities.

Falcons and other birds of prey were suffering from the 1940s through the 1960s from the poisonous effects of bio-accumulating DDT in their bodies. The insecticide - banned nationally in 1972 - gradually poisoned the birds and made the shells of the eggs these birds laid so brittle, they broke when sat upon. In 1970, peregrines were listed as a federally endangered species, and records indicate peregrine falcons did not nest in Pennsylvania from about 1959 to 1987.

"Thanks to banning of DDT, reintroduction efforts launched in the 1990s by the Game Commission and The Peregrine Fund have enabled the peregrine falcons to recover," said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Section supervisor. "Today, there are 25 pairs of nesting falcons in Pennsylvania, and they have adapted well to life in the urban environs like Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre.

"Peregrine falcons have made a remarkable recovery, and we're thrilled with their progress. But, before we consider them secure, we'd like to see them occupy a larger number of historic natural cliff sites. Right now, only three of the 25 nesting pairs are on cliffs.

"More peregrines anywhere in Pennsylvania is a step in the right direction for this raptor's recovery. But seeing more nesting pairs on cliffs, instead of on buildings and bridges, would qualify the ongoing recovery as more organically significant."

In 2003, peregrines made their big step back to natural nesting sites in Pennsylvania when a pair used a cliff in the state's northern tier overlooking the west branch of the Susquehanna River. It was the first time peregrines used cliffs since 1957, when five pairs were nesting at cliff sites instate. In the late 1980s, peregrines started nesting in Pennsylvania for the first time since their extirpation, when they began nesting on bridges in the greater Philadelphia area.

The Game Commission plans to visit 22 nests this spring to band and perform health checks on peregrine chicks.

Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe noted that partnerships, such as the one with DEP, have enabled more people to learn about the recovery of the peregrine falcon.

"While the Game Commission's mission is to manage all wild birds and mammals and their habitats for current and future generations, we certainly rely on partners to help us carry out our mission and help broadcast the many success stories we have accomplished on behalf of all Pennsylvanians," Roe said. "The support we receive from DEP, in hosting these birds, as well as annual banding programs and sponsoring the webcasting and falcon website, is invaluable. Indeed, we can't thank DEP Secretary Katie McGinty and her staff enough for their agency's long-term commitment to showcasing the falcon story that unfolds on the Rachel Carson State Office Building.

"There also are other partners around the state that enable Pennsylvanians and others around the world to watch falcon nests in their community. We offer our thanks and appreciation to each and everyone of them, including PPL, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the University of Pittsburgh and the National Aviary."

Roe noted that, on May 13, Allentown played host to conservation history story of its own as the first of four peregrine falcon eggs hatched in a nest atop PPL Corporation's downtown headquarters. PPL's website, complete with its own webcam, offers the public an opportunity to watch the falcons atop its Allentown headquarters, as well as those at its Montour power plant in northcentral Pennsylvania, and at its Martins Creek facility in Northampton County. The website, www.birdsofpreyatppl.com (http://www.birdsofpreyatppl.com/), provides updates and photographs on the peregrine falcons that live at three PPL facilities, as well as the bald eagles at its Holtwood Dam site in York County and the ospreys at its Wallenpaupack facility on the boundary of Pike and Wayne counties.

Earlier this month, three peregrine falcons hatched on the 40th floor of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. The National Aviary has cameras trained on the university nest, as well as the nest on the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh, and footage can be viewed at www.aviary.org (http://www.aviary.org/).

Facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission: Peregrine falcons, also commonly referred to as "duck hawks," are strong fliers that hunt on the wing, diving from nose-bleed heights at speeds up to 200 miles per hour to snatch flying blue jays, flickers, starlings, pigeons and other like prey. The birds weigh from one-and-a-quarter to about two pounds and females are larger than males.


Media Contact:
Jerry Feaser (717) 705-6541 PGCNews@state.pa.us