Pittsburgh's peregrine falcons kill intruder from Cleveland

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A peregrine falcon from Cleveland met his demise in foreign territory in March, caretakers cleaning the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland discovered on Monday.

The dead falcon, identified as a 3-year-old male named Pulse, had tried to take over the nest of longtime residents Erie and Dorothy. The fight -- and Erie's eventual victory -- were caught on a Web camera, and provided a unique glimpse into falcon behavior.

The video ended abruptly with Erie shoving the intruder out of the nest and out of view of the camera. At the time, Pulse was assumed to have flown away, wounded but alive.

Now, monitors know that Pulse was killed by Erie, and has spent the past few months decomposing under the victorious bird's nest.

Territorial fights between male falcons are common. But rarely are fights caught on tape, and even more rarely do researchers come across an actual body.

Anthony Bledsoe, an ornithologist and lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, was excited at the opportunity to examine the dead falcon.

"It was fulfilling to find the carcass, to find who did the attack and what his fate was," said Dr. Bledsoe. "It allowed us to complete the story of the attack."

Gathering information about peregrine falcons is difficult, but completing Pulse's story provided an important piece of the puzzle. For example, said Dr. Bledsoe, that Erie was six years older than his foe defied conventional wisdom.

He planned to do tissue analysis to determine environmental toxin levels to which the bird was exposed. He also said that identifying the bird helps researchers collect information on the regional dispersal patterns of peregrine falcons.

Beth Fife of the Pennsylvania Game Commission said, however, "The body was so dried up and decomposed that there is nothing left to test."

Pulse had left Cleveland once he was fully fledged to wander, as peregrine falcons do. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources bands its falcons but does not track them until they have nested with a mate, usually at age 2 or 3; thus, the news of Pulse's fate only recently reached his hometown.

Male falcons tend to settle close to home, said Kate St. John, a volunteer peregrine monitor with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, but females disperse much farther.

"My guess is that that's how they mix up the gene pool," she said. "They don't know their immediate brothers and sisters, so it would be possible to mate with them if they didn't work it out somehow."

Laura Yao can be reached at lyao@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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