SPOKANE -- Three 21-day-old female peregrine falcon chicks recently received
leg bands and lots of attention from state and federal wildlife officials.
The young birds, living under the Sunset Highway Bridge, are from one of just 46
nesting pairs in Washington. They also are one of just two families of peregrine
falcons residing in an urban area of the state. The other is in downtown Seattle, where
tall buildings and bridges also simulate the cliffs they would choose in more natural
"The colored and numbered leg bands, which can easily be seen with
binoculars, will help us keep track of these individuals when they fledge or fly on their
own in another three weeks, migrate south this fall, and hopefully return to the Pacific
Northwest in the future," explained Howard Ferguson, a Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife biologist, "We know that both parent birds were hatched from a nest
in the Clark Fork River area on the Idaho-Montana border because they were leg-
banded there, the male in 1994 and the female in 1991. This is their second year
nesting under Spokane's Sunset Highway Bridge."
Ferguson assisted U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Joel Pagel in banding
the chicks, taking blood samples for DNA analysis, and collecting egg shell fragments
and food scraps from the nest. Washington Department of Transportation bridge
equipment operator James Alongi provided the biologists access to the fortress-like
nest with a special "U"-shaped mechanical arm. Spokane Department of
Transportation bridge engineer Mark Serbousek helped keep the operation safe from
the bridge deck.
Pagel, who also does research for the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research
Group, will analyze and catalogue the birds' bloodlines, measure egg shell thickness
for comparison with others in the west and record food sources.
"The more we know about their health, survival and distribution, the closer we
move toward down-listing or de-listing the species in future years," Ferguson explained.
Peregrines declined worldwide by the early '70's due to the use of chlorinated
hydrocarbon pesticides, especially DDT. Peregrines prey on smaller birds which feed
on the insects targeted by the pesticides. The chemical contamination in the food chain
resulted in egg shell thinning and loss of reproduction for the falcon.
DDT was banned in the U.S. and by the 1980's captive breeding and rearing
projects were boosting peregrine numbers across the country. Peregrines were reared
in downtown Spokane in 1988-1991, but none of those birds returned.
In 1980 Washington had only two known nesting pairs of peregrine falcons. By
1997, a total of 46 pairs produced 64 young, including the Spokane pair's first trio of
young. Of the 58 nest sites that WDFW monitors annually across the state, 25 are on
the coast; 16 in North Puget Sound; six in the Cascades; five in the Columbia Gorge;
two near the Snake River; one in Columbia Basin; one in Seattle and one in Spokane.
While urban sites receive the most attention by people, they are not common nor as
successful as more natural, remote sites.
From head to tail tip, the peregrine falcon is about 15-21 inches in length with a
wing span up to 3-3/4 feet about the size of a crow. It has a slate-gray backside with
a light breast and dark hood and "mustache." It has pointed wings and narrow tail and
flies with quick wing beats like a pigeon. It nests high on cliffs and ledges, usually near
water. It eats smaller birds such as ducks, pigeons, sparrows and swifts which it
kills with spectacular, speedy maneuvers on the wing.