Dorothy, the 14-year-old peregrine falcon that since 2002 has nested on a 40th-floor ledge of the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland, was perched on the limestone railing next to that nest and her lone chick shortly before 9 a.m. Friday.
She'd just fed the 22-day-old chick a small bird for breakfast. "Baltimore oriole ... again," said Kate St. John, who blogs about the city's peregrines. Someone else watching from the office inside the window next to the nest said it looked like Dorothy was calmly "chilling." Ms. St. John's response was that nothing could be further from the truth.
"She's not chilling, she's agitated. This is her 12th year on that nest, and she knows that someone is coming out for her chick," said Ms. St. John, who has been called "the patron saint of peregrines."
Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, F. Arthur McMorris, the peregrine falcon coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Dan Brauning, the commission's wildlife diversity chief, came crawling along the ledge toward the nest to scoop up the chick and bring it inside, where it would be examined by a veterinarian and fitted with an identification bracelet.
As the two men wearing hard hats and thick leather gloves moved along the ledge, Dorothy repeatedly and swiftly swooped and dove at them, squawking loudly, talons poised, intent on mayhem in defense of her latest, and maybe last, offspring.
The chick, a male still covered with a downy white fuzz of immature feathers, weighed in at 605 grams -- a little over 1 pound, 5 ounces -- and, after an examination by Amanda Fisher, a University of Pittsburgh veterinarian, was pronounced healthy, banded and returned to the nest.
Dorothy is healthy too, but aging, Mr. McMorris said. This year's chick, the only one of five eggs she successfully hatched and raised, will be the 42nd she's fledged on Pitt's Gothic high-rise with two different mates. Last year, Dorothy laid a "full clutch" of four eggs and fledged three, average for peregrines in the wild.
"Fourteen is a ripe old age for a peregrine and she's been a very successful, very productive bird," Mr. McMorris said. "But at that age fertility and strength is going down.
'We all have to steel ourselves to see a younger female battle for her territory and win. That's just what commonly happens. Dorothy has held on well."
Dorothy was born on the Firstar Center in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1999, a first generation wild-born bird fledged by a mother reared in captivity and released to the wild. Dorothy's current mate, known as "E2," was hatched on the Gulf Tower in Downtown Pittsburgh in 2005, and is considered middle-aged for a falcon.
Peregrines are no longer considered endangered by the federal government because of robust population numbers in the western U.S., but remain a species of concern and endangered in Pennsylvania because the birds still are not nesting in sufficient numbers at their natural, cliff-side sites, according to a release by the National Aviary.
"By banding these birds we're able to know things about their survival and dispersal, how long they live and where they're nesting," said Mr. McMorris. "We'd like to know if there's a sustainable population in Pennsylvania."
This spring, there are eight nesting pairs of peregrines in the Pittsburgh region, all residing on man-made structures, according to the National Aviary.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983. First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM