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Baby falcons get ID bands

RUSSELL, Ky. — In no other family will you find names like these: Hecla, Iron, Toro and Loco. But those were the names that the Falcon Power students of Rock Hill Middle School picked out and that’s what these babies were christened.

But since this brood doesn’t look like a lot of other families, those names are probably appropriate after all.

In this household, the babies are covered in blue-gray down wispier than nacreous clouds at sundown with vocal cords that produce a squawk that could curdle a raw egg.

They live in the underside of the Ironton-Russell Bridge cared for by a mother who could make Arnold Schwarzenegger take cover.

That’s because this is a family of baby peregrine falcons and Friday morning they had their first close encounter with humans. To a bird it’s not something they want to repeat.

It was all part of the banding of these babies by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife and drew onlookers galore to the park in Russell, Ky., by the Ohio River. Joining the crowd were the Rock Hill students participating in this year’s Falcon Project.

The nest had one female and three males; gender is determined by the diameter of the leg with the female exhibiting the larger bone. Each baby had both legs banded. On one leg was placed the purple band indicative of migratory birds with its nine identifying numbers. When those numbers are recorded, the bird’s identity can always be determined.

However, the bird must be in hand for a naturalist to read all the numbers.

On the other leg was placed the red-black band with two numbers and a letter. That makes life easier for the naturalist as that band can be read simply through a telescope.

Next a blood sample was taken from each bird’s wing that will go into a peregrine falcon database at the University of Minnesota.

This is the third year for the Rock Hill reading class of Denise Fraley to study falcons. Class work ranges from watching video cams of other nestings and bandings to reading novels that focus on the birds. A reward for all their effort is the students get to name the latest crop of falcons.

“We try to pick a theme,” Fraley said.

This year the theme started out reflecting the pig iron history of Lawrence County with Hecla and Iron. Then somehow Toro and Loco got in the picture, but the monikers stuck.

That suited Rex Lawless just fine as he had picked the winning “Toro” name and got to help Dave Scott, peregrine falcon coordinator for the Division of Wildlife, put the bands on one of the male birds.

“I wasn’t here for their birth, but I was there when they were banded,” Lawless told a classmate.