Many Peregrine Falcons have settled in large cities lured by the cliff-like topography of high rise buildings, and the plethora of available prey. They build nests on cathedrals, skyscraper window ledges, and the towers of suspension bridges. In Lower Manhattan 55 Water Street seems to be a favorite perennial location.
The crow-sized falcon is admired for its incredible speeds, which are seldom exceeded by any other bird. Plunging from tremendous heights, the peregrine falcon can reach up to 180 mph in pursuit of prey. It feeds primarily on birds, which it takes on the wing.
Peregrine Falcons were placed on both the Federal and State Endangered Species lists in the early 1970's. Their numbers were severely decimated by post WWII use of DDT pesticides, which was later found to alter the reproductive behavior of the falcons and cause eggshell thinning. The release of young captive bred birds, from 1974-1988, helped lead to their return as a nesting species. Peregrines first returned to nest on two bridges in New York City in 1983, and the population has grown steadily since that time. By 2003 there were close to 50 pairs present statewide, and New York City now has probably the largest urban population of peregrine falcons anywhere!
The Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEP, monitors and assists the falcons by placing wooden nest boxes filled with gravel at many of the sites to increase productivity. If you look closely at the photo above you can see the falcon sitting in a nest box placed on the ledge of the 55 Water Street building.
The DEP also bands young Peregrines to provide important information on the bird's movements, which is essential to understanding their habitat needs year-round. The nestlings are removed from the nest box, or natural nest site, for a short time and two colored metal bands are placed on the birds legs. These bands are uniquely lettered and numbered so that if the Falcons are observed later, or found injured or dead, they can be identified. When the birds are banded they are also checked for overall health and condition.
On May 20, 2009 wildlife biologist Chris Nadareski banded the 2 male and 2 female fledglings from the peregrine falcon nest site at 55 Water Street. This year the 2 male fledglings were named by the children of the Vigiano brothers, one of whom was a police officer and the other a fireman, who were both killed when they responded to the attack on World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The first male fledgling was named was named “Levi” after Cpl. Chris Levi, a triple amputee Iraqi war veteran from Long Island, and the second was named “Volari”, the Italian word that translates as "flying."
The 2 females were named by Mrs. Scanio’s 3rd grade class at the Unqua Elementary School in the Massapequa Long Island school district. The first female fledgling was named “Charlotte” after the student’s favorite character in “Charlotte’s Web, and the second was named “Faith,” to honor the fact that these children have faith in themselves that they can do anything.
Hopefully these new fledgling will survive to mature, mate and reproduce, and the cycle of returning the numbers of falcons back to the wilds of New York City can continue.
Falcons mate for life and generally return to the same nesting area. Every spring a web cam at 55 Water Street, in Lower Manhattan, follows the return of the falcons to their nest and watches as they hatch their eggs. The web cam is presently offline until next year, but when I learn of the return of the falcons in 2010 I'll blog about it then so that we'll all be able to watch the new cycle.
If you'd like to learn more about how to restore Peregrine Falcons, and other endangered birds of prey, to your area, please visit the Peregrine Fund web site