Car kills spring's lone falcon fledgling in Oakland


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Silver Boy was the child of his mother's old age, this year's sole fledgling and possibly even the matriarch's last. As an only child, the young peregrine falcon had forged a special bond with his father, who was teaching him to fly, lock talons and catch prey around their nest atop the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in Oakland.

But on Friday at about 10 a.m., Silver Boy either hit or was hit by a vehicle on Forbes Avenue in front of the Carnegie Museum of Art, instantly breaking his neck and ending this year's chick-watching adventures on his 11th day out of the nest.

Since the accident, Silver Boy's mother hasn't been seen and his father appears to be mourning, according to local peregrine falcon watchers.

"He's looking for his kid, and I think he knows something is wrong," said Kate St. John, an IT manager for WQED who also blogs about the city's peregrine falcons for the station. "He's still geared up to feed him and protect him from danger -- I think like any mom or dad, it's hard to change gears and say, 'He's not here anymore.' "

Silver Boy, born on April 25, was the 42nd chick fledged by Dorothy and E2, the falcon couple whose lives have been chronicled since 2007 by a camera set up outside their nest on the Cathedral. Another nest-mate hatched around the same time but convulsed and died at the nest within a week, and an additional three eggs failed to hatch.

Dorothy, who arrived at the Cathedral from her home in Wisconsin in 2001 and initially mated with a falcon named Erie, typically fledges three to five falcons each spring, said Ms. St. John, whose blog can be found at www.wqed.org/birdblog. At least one fledgling a year from the cathedral nest has died each year, but with only one youngster to fledge this year, Silver Boy's loss is a particularly heavy blow to falcon-watchers in Pittsburgh and beyond.

On Friday, many of them posted heartfelt condolences on Ms. St. John's blog in honor of a fledgling that, by all accounts, was particularly bold, curious and charismatic.

Within a few hours of Ms. St. John's announcement of Silver Boy's death, a reader named Donna posted: "Oh Kate, I am so so sorry. I felt faint when I read this. Fly free little guy!"

Another reader, Braveheart2665, wrote: "RIP Precious one May you fly free at the Rainbow Bridge."

And Peter Bell, a doctoral student in chemistry who often checks on the falcons while walking to Pitt's chemistry building, said that when he looked out the front window of his bus to see a falcon-shaped figure lying in the middle of Forbes Avenue this morning, he could only cross his fingers and hope he was wrong.

When he got closer, though, he could see Silver Boy's immature feathers and green-and-black leg band, and knew the fledgling was dead.

"I thought, 'It's a darn shame -- did this really have to happen this year, when we only had one to watch?' " Mr. Bell said. "It would have been exciting to see this guy survive all his flight training and survive to leave his parents' territory and to establish a nest, find a mate and be really successful there as well."

After getting off at the next stop, Mr. Bell ran onto Forbes Avenue to save Silver Boy's body from traffic, placed it on the grass next to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and called Ms. St. John to break the news. Ms. St. John, after calling the state Game Commission, buried Silver Boy's body in an unmarked grave, in a quiet place within sight of the Cathedral of Learning.

Now, she is wondering whether Dorothy's chick-bearing days are past, now that she has reached the elderly age of 14 and managed to hatch only one healthy chick this year. Dorothy's mother, Sibella, lived to the age of 14, and while falcons have been known to reach the age of 17, that is rare, Ms. St. John said.

Among Dorothy's 42 fledglings, 10 are known to have established nests of their own after having been identified by the colored bands on their legs, Ms. St. John said. The closest is her son Louie, whose nest is near Point Park University, Downtown. The others have nests in buildings, bridges, a power plant and a water tower in Ohio, Pennsylvania and as far away as Rochester, N.Y.

But with Silver Boy's loss, those other offspring might be where Dorothy's line ends. As falcons age, Ms. St. John said, both their fertility and their ability to defend their nests against challengers fades.

And most of the time, falcons don't get to fade gracefully into old age, especially if they occupy prime falcon real estate such as the top of the Cathedral of Learning, she said. As a result, Dorothy might face new troubles next spring.

"These spectacular fights -- and unfortunate ones, for human viewing -- occur in the spring when eligible unmated birds fly around looking for a nest," Ms. St. John said. "If they see a bird that looks vulnerable and not up to snuff, they will fight with them and try to take over their territory, and resident birds often fight to the death."

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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