Bridge to be closed for falcons

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2003

Ironton's most infamous winged-residents are expected to return soon, and may cause some traffic delays Monday as preparations are made.

Traffic may be delayed on the Ironton-Russell Bridge while nesting boxes are placed beneath the bridge in hopes that it will deter the two peregrine falcons that have become annual visitors to Lawrence County from harassing pedestrians.

On Monday, one lane of traffic will be closed at approximately 9 a.m. for a couple of hours while officials from Ohio Department of Natural Resources install the nesting boxes beneath the bridge's road surface, said Cecil Townsend, county manager for Ohio Department of Transportation's Lawrence County facility.

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The hope is the nest boxes will keep the birds from attacking any pedestrians or ODOT workers after several incidents were reported last year, said Chris Smith, wildlife area supervisor for ODNR District 4.

"We are not sure if the falcons are back yet, but we have have heard reports that they are," Smith said. "We are hoping to minimize any conflicts by putting up the nesting boxes."

Typically, peregrine falcons lay eggs in March and they hatch in April. Once the young learn to fly, otherwise known as fledging, the birds will stay in the area until mid-summer, he said.

Last June, the sidewalk was temporarily closed because the falcons were attacking ODOT workers and pedestrians because the were protecting the nests while the young were learning to fly.

The nesting boxes have been specially designed for the falcons, and will be attached on the eastern or upstream side of the bridge to encourage the falcons to nest opposite the sidewalk.

As a precautionary measure, anytime workers are underneath the bridge, the Lawrence County Marine Patrol through the Sheriff's Office will have a boat in the water, Townsend said.

Last May, ODNR specialists tagged four newborn falcons on the bridge and took blood samples.

Peregrine falcons were declared a national endangered species in 1970 and removed from the list in 1999 because the number of paired falcons increased from no pairs east of the Mississippi River in 1960 to 200 pairs in 1999. However, they are again on the endangered species list in Ohio.

As one of the fastest birds in the world, peregrine falcons can dive at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour. Each bird has a three to three and a half foot wing span. They typically weigh less than two pounds, but grow to be 15 to 21 inches in height.