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June 13, 2002

There's no place like home for a pair of peregrine falcons

Bird lovers, grab your binoculars and head on over to the Cathedral of Learning. There is a new bird family in town and they're nesting high atop the Cathedral of Learning.

Outside the Cathedral's 40th floor reside several of the newest members of the University community, four peregrine falcon chicks. Although the parent falcons have been in Oakland for several years, they had not successfully bred until their chicks began to hatch this year on May 12, Mother's Day. The peregrine falcons, which are still considered endangered in Pennsylvania, became only the second pair to breed in western Pennsylvania. The other pair nested on the Gulf Tower, Downtown.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission banded Pitt's peregrine chicks on June 11. The chicks were taken from the nest, which was built for the falcons by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and examined for injury and parasites by a veterinarian and his assistant. The chicks then were weighed, a process that is crucial in determining the gender of the given bird. The three males each weighed about 23 ounces, while the female, which normally is one-third heavier than the male, weighed in at approximately 32 ounces.

Two bands, one the U.S Fish and Wildlife band and the other a color-coded alphanumeric band, were placed on the birds. The bands will enable the Pennsylvania Game Commission to track and identify the birds from a distance.

Two bird lovers, Karen Lang, a staff specialist in Pitt's Office of Admissions and Financial Aid and Kate St. John, director of information technology at WQED, worked with Charles Bier, director of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's Natural Heritage Program to install a nest for the falcons. Anthony Bledsoe, a lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences who attended the banding ceremony with some of his students, and Phil Hieber, senior area coordinator in the Office of Facilities Management, also assisted in gaining approval for the nest and helping the Conservancy to ensure the operation's success.

The peregrine falcon chicks are expected to leave the nest over the next several weeks after fully maturing. However, the adult peregrines are expected to continue to nest atop the Cathedral.

–David Wicclair

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