Falcon makes its way to city

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 19, 2003

During the past two summers, a pair of falcons turned the Ironton-Russell Bridge into what some may consider a tamer version of the movie "The Birds."

Now, one of the peregrine falcons' offspring has ventured from the bridge into downtown Ironton, but no one believes the need to take cover exists at this time.

The peregrine falcons have become annual visitors to Lawrence County, and for the second summer in a row, the Ohio Department of Transportation has closed the sidewalk to the Ironton-Russell Bridge. The closures are a result of the falcons attacking ODOT workers and pedestrians while protecting their nests.

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John Baker, director of O'Keefe-Baker funeral home, has a small peregrine falcon currently residing in a tree by the funeral home.

"It's just hanging out. It's been in the neighborhood for a couple of days," he said.

The falcon has posed no threat to Baker or to anyone else he knows, but the bird has been raiding a robin's nest in the tree in which it is staying. Baker has not contacted wildlife officials.

"It's just a bird," he said. "I had a groundhog in my yard, and I didn't contact anyone about it."

Chris Smith, wildlife area supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife's Cooper Hollow area, said he is surprised that one of the young falcons has made it off the bridge and into town, but this behavior is normal and they will venture from their nests from time to time.

However, residents should not be afraid of the falcon.

Smith said that neither young peregrine falcons nor adult ones are necessarily aggressive. The only time they tend to show aggression is when they are protecting a nesting area. In fact, the only bird that has probably attacked people is the adult female falcon, he said.

"The male in Ironton is usually just hanging out," he said.

If residents spot the falcon, Smith said they are more than welcome to contact the Division of Wildlife, but if the birds appear to be healthy, no action really needs to be taken. Residents can also enjoy having the falcons in their neighborhood because they are not a common sight, he said.

When Division of Wildlife officials are confident that the falcons have left for the summer, the Ironton-Russell Bridge sidewalk will be opened up again, Cecil Townsend, county manager for ODOT said.

Despite the bridge's sidewalk closure being an inconvenience to pedestrians and the falcons being a hazard to him and his workers, the falcons have been helpful in at least one aspect - getting rid of pigeons, Townsend said. In years past, the bridge was home to hundreds of pigeons, and the falcons were responsible for the departure of the vast majority of the pigeons. This has resulted in a more sanitary bridge, he said.

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.