Falcon watching

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

Gasps and awe were the reactions of the half-dozen girls watching as a box was opened revealing squawking baby falcons.

Lucy, the 7-year-old peregrine falcon from Toronto, Canada, and her mate have returned to the Ironton-Russell Bridge to once again start their family.

"It's probably the same unbanded male," said Dave Scott, peregrine falcon project coordinator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. "We know it's the same female."

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The ODNR retrieves the chicks each year when they are three- to fourweeks-old to tag them, take blood and check their gender.

This year Lucy and her mate were blessed with three boys and one girl.

The tricky part is retrieving the chicks from under the Ironton-Russell Bridge.

Peregrine falcons are like any parents when it comes to their children, they can be offensively aggressive.

Scott said the aggressiveness of pairs varies. He said some will only swoop while others will actually hit people.

"This one is already aggressive," Scott said of the mother falcon.

When the falcons were being retrieved, the father stayed up high while the mother circled the crowd and the nest screeching in defense of her babies.

Ken Ritchie, a wildlife technician with ODNR's Division of Wildlife, went under the bridge to fetch the chicks from their nest.

"It's a fairly restrictive space," Ritchie said. "It's not hard to access, just restrictive."

Ritchie has done this for three or four years. He said he has never been attacked by the mother falcon.

"It's about standing your ground and showing a little aggression toward the adults, which will sway them," Ritchie said.

Scott said they try not to keep the birds away from the nest too long.

"We know they are healthy so they can go back to Mom and Dad," he said. "We don't want to stress the birds. We get them back to the nest so the parents can protect and feed them."

When they are returned to the bridge they are put in a nest box instead of their true nest.

Scott said the nest box is a better location for the younglings to leave from. He said they will be able to fly in three more weeks. They will be six weeks old then.

Nan O'Hara lives at the foot of the Russell, Ky., side of the bridge and said she has watched the falcons since they arrived.

"I watched them a year before anyone knew they were here," O'Hara said.

Though they tend to leave, she said this year they did not.

"I watched them all year long," O'Hara said. "This is the first winter they have stayed."

Scott said it is not in their nature to stay in one location so the chicks will probably not stay local, adding that the latin word for peregrine is "wanderer."

The half dozen girls in attendance said the birds were cute, and they liked their screeching.

"They're pretty because they're squawking," said Emma Fisher, a 5-year-old from Indiana who is visiting her grandmother.

Seven-year-old Stella Herron from Lexington, Ky., agreed.

"They're cute," she said. "I like their screaming."

Her sister, Reecie, said she has been close to other types of birds but never peregrine falcons.

"I think they're really cool," Reecie Herron, 10, said. "I've seen them on TV but never up close."

Scott said there are 22 pairs of peregrine falcons in Ohio, 19 have produced eggs this year. He said this year is likely to be a record high for offspring.