Harrisburg falcons’ 18th courtship season has begun

HARRISBURG — It’s Valentine’s Day, and the Harrisburg falcons’ 18th courtship season has just begun, with a couple of newcomers and the elder resident pair vying for affections and eyeing the nest site on the 15th-floor ledge at the Rachel Carson State Office Building. The nest is the most productive peregrine nest in Pennsylvania.

“The return of healthy peregrine falcon populations after their dramatic decline in the mid-20th century is one of the great environmental comeback stories, and Pennsylvania plays an important role,” said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

“By 1960, when DDT was in wide use, there were almost no peregrine nests in the eastern United States,” said Secretary McDonnell. “Biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson, a Pennsylvania native, detailed DDT’s insidious effects on wildlife in her ground-breaking book, Silent Spring, and helped bring about a ban on this pesticide in the 1970s. Reintroduction work since then, including efforts by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Peregrine Fund, have returned the number of Pennsylvania peregrine nests to greater than pre-DDT levels of historic known nest sites.”

For students, teachers, citizen scientists, and other Harrisburg falcon fans worldwide, the DEP Environmental Education and Information Center provides many learning resources, including a falcon educators workshop (https://pennsylvaniadep.ticketleap.com/) on March 29; lesson plans; a timeline of falcon history in Pennsylvania; a chart showing the stages of falcon life; Falcon Wire news updates; and the popular FalconCam, which livestreams the nesting site, with infrared night viewing and new microphones for improved audio. In 2017, over 55,000 viewers around the world watched the FalconCam over 300,000 times.

In addition, falcon updates will be shared in Teaching Green, the center’s new quarterly e-newsletter, and a new online tool at Harrisburg falcons enables FalconCam viewers to log the varieties of prey they see the falcons bringing to the ledge, contributing citizen science to DEP’s educational. A new DEP video recaps in a few minutes the entire 2017 season, from courtship to the growth of young falcons, preparing to fly.

The wide ledge at the Rachel Carson building is virtually a #peregrinepenthouse, ideal for courtship and nesting because it provides a high perch, shelter from severe weather, and space for young falcons to strengthen their wings. In addition, its urban location offers some protection from predators such as great horned owls and golden eagles.

The longtime resident female is nearly nine years old and originally from the Pennsylvania Turnpike bridge in Bucks County. The longtime resident male is 15 years old and originally from Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia. They’ve nested and raised young at the Rachel Carson building for the last five years.

But if anything can spark competition, it’s love and real estate, and two newcomers have appeared at the ledge in recent weeks: an 8-year-old male, banded in Clinton County, and almost 2-year-old female banded in Logan Township, NJ.

To impress their potential mate during courtship, male peregrines engage in spectacular displays of flight, and demonstrate their hunting skills by bringing gifts of food back to the female. They also bow to their mate, and the pair engage in vocalizations.

For the last 18 consecutive years, 64 young falcons have successfully hatched at the nest at the Rachel Carson building. Thirty-five have been female, 27 have been male, and the sex of two hatchlings (2008 and 2017) was undetermined. All were banded by biologists from the Pennsylvanian Game Commission.

Which pair will mate and claim the nesting site this year? The question is on the minds of the many fans who share their sightings of and speculations about the #Hbgfalcons on Twitter @Falconchatter.

Once the falcons work it out, their dedicated fans hope to be on to #eggwatch in March.

Source: PA Department of Environmental Protection