The camera is unobtrusive and doesn’t interfere with their daily life, and we’ve learned so much about them we’d never have known without this method of observation.
Peregrines are one of a number of medium-sized raptors. Reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph in its stoop, or dive after prey, it’s one of the fastest creatures on earth, and a subspecies can be found on nearly every continent and in nearly every climate. It is also the iconic bird used in human falconry; working with a falcon is a commitment of years and requires a complete knowledge and bond with the bird, not so much training as partnership and understanding.
Use of pesticides, especially DDT, after WWII affected the peregrine’s ability to produce an eggshell thick enough to be incubated by an adult bird, and as a result the species declined to the point that by 1965 it actually became extinct in the eastern US and other areas in the world.
A concerted effort by individuals, conservationists and environmental organizations at the local and state level resulted in restricting the use of DDT, protecting the species in other areas and encouraging peregrines to return to the area helped to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. In Pittsburgh this includes the owners and managers of the buildings where the Falcons nest.
This is one of the reasons for FalconCam today—to learn about peregrines in general and monitor this population and its adaptation to living among buildings instead of mountains. The nests are man-made but carefully designed and placed to attract falcons, and so they have since 1991 at the Gulf Tower and 2002 at the Cathedral of Learning. Fledglings are banded and tracked to see the dissemination of individuals and to track populations, as well as cross-breeding with captive bred falcons.
A falcon’s diet consists mostly of birds, namely rock doves, those big strutting pigeons we see all around the city, and other small to medium-sized birds. A peregrine family decidedly keeps the pigeon population in check, and certainly no building that has a peregrine family inhabiting it will have a problem with pigeons messing up the roof or the sidewalk below, a common complaint in cities all over, and a natural way to control nuisance birds.
Over the years, people looking out of windows have seen some spectacular catches by the falcons as well as a fight nearly to the death between two male falcons.
Collaborative efforts like this not only exist in Pittsburgh but in other cities around Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States. I like to think it’s fitting that the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capitol, also has a falcon nest and FalconCam.