The Toledo metropolitan area has room for a second nesting pair of peregrine falcons after all.
Two more of these sleek-winged, slate-backed birds of prey have nested this spring, selecting a lofty perch atop a fractionator tower at the BP Refinery in Oregon. They join a pair of peregrines that nest atop the former Commodore Perry Motor Inn downtown.
The Commodore Perry site has been active annually since 1988, when a falcon nicknamed Nellie McClung and her mate, tagged Commodore Perrygrine, hatched out the first falcon nest on record in Ohio.
The downtown site has gone through several pairs of falcon mates since, but only one year has the nest failed to produce young. The class of 2005 numbers four chicks, all of which were banded last week by a crew from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Observers long have wondered whether there was room for a second nesting territory in Toledo, given that falcon mates fiercely defend their wide-ranging turf against all comers, including hawks and other falcons. Indeed, some intruding male peregrines have been killed in territorial combat over downtown through the years.
The BP nest, however, apparently settles the elbow-room question. It was reported early this month by a refinery worker and initially was found to contain three eggs. But as of this week the nest was down to one egg and the adult pair apparently had abandoned incubation, said Bill Roshak, assistant supervisor of wildlife management for Ohio Wildlife District 2.
Nonetheless it is likely that the birds have established a new territory, one they should maintain into next year, Roshak said. He noted that the nest, much like the original nest atop the Commodore Perry, is in a precarious position atop the round-topped tower. It is possible that the missing eggs inadvertently have rolled off into oblivion.
Both of the adult birds at BP are wearing legbands, but Roshak said that no one has been able to read the numbers so far to establish positive identity. He added, however, that the female is believed to be an East Coast bird because it wears a silver anodized legband used by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service there. Legbands used in Ohio are anodized purple.
Roshak said that the state wildlife division wants to work with refinery management in possibly siting an artificial nesting box in a more secure location in hopes of drawing the falcons to a safer nest.
"Once they lay an egg we are obligated to do everything we can to protect that nest site," the biologist said. Falcons are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and remain listed as endangered in Ohio.
The eastern subspecies of the peregrine, once casually called the duck hawk, was declared extinct in the early 1960s. Pollution from such persistent pesticides as now-banned DDT was found to interfere with their reproductive cycle. But in the late 1980s attempts were undertaken to "hack" or artificially introduce birds from captive populations to urban skyscrapers.
Skyscrapers are like artificial cliffs to falcons, which in nature scratch together nests high on sheer rock faces. The original Toledo falcons, however, showed up from hacking projects in other cities and began Ohio nesting history unassisted.
The original nest on the Commodore Perry was an abandoned pigeon nest, precariously perched on a narrow ledge in the old hotel s roofline. It blew down in a strong storm in its second year of use, and the chicks were lost. That nest was replaced with a man-made nestbox atop the south face of the building and it has become remarkably successful.
In all Ohio now has 22 nesting pairs of falcons, including the two nests in the Toledo area, one atop a downtown Lima bank building, and one at
Huron on a waterfront grain elevator. Seventeen of the nests have hatched young. In 2004 a record 54 chicks fledged from 15 of 16 known nests.
Falcons are a supreme bird of prey and use their sleek, swift form to dive-bomb prey usually pigeons in urban areas at speeds of 200 mph or more. Their long, pointed wings are shaped for speed, but they must use altitude and a dive to gain velocity. That is why they nest high on cliffs, in arctic and subarctic regions and elsewhere in the wild, or on tall buildings.
Historically falcons did not nest anywhere in Ohio because of a scarcity of natural cliffs. But all that has changed since the now self-sustaining populations have become acclimated to
Peregrines often are confused with Cooper s hawks by casual observers, many of whom think, after reading about peregrines, that they have a falcon preying on songbirds at their backyard feeders. That is highly unlikely.
In both species adults have blue-gray or slate backs and buff-streaked breasts and stand about as tall as a crow. But the Cooper s wings are large and rounded, providing lots of lift and maneuverability in its normal woodland settings. In comparison the peregrine s wings are longer and pointed for dive-bombing speed.
The peregrine has very large, yellow-rimmed eyes and the Cooper s has red-rimmed eyes, among other differentiating field marks. Thus a backyard "hawk" preying on songbirds likely is a "Coop s." But that bird tearing apart a pigeon on a downtown office-tower ledge at lunchtime likely is a peregrine.