A family of peregrine falcons have enjoyed high-rise living in Pittsburgh since 1991, when a pair set up house in the Gulf Tower. The peregrines have moved around in the decades since, and now their new landlord isn’t too happy with their tenancy.
Downtown Pittsburgh’s resident peregrines Dori and Louie are new parents, having welcomed four chicks to their Third Avenue nest in March. The family is perched on a building currently under construction and slated to become the Keystone Flats, luxury student apartments near the Point Park University campus.
Peregrine falcons remain endangered in Pennsylvania.
Developers for BET Investments are expected to evict the feathered family through a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, citing “buzzing,” or swooping down by Mom and Dad at construction workers, according to Kate St. John, the Pittsburgh area’s lead peregrine monitor.
“When the peregrine is working at scaring you, it’s a good idea to honor that, because the bird gives you warnings first,” St. John said.
She said she believes Dori and Louie are trying to protect their young.
“The adults are consumed by providing for the needs of their kids,” St. John said. “Humans are peregrines’ No. 1 enemies, so they are defending their young, and the way a peregrine does that is to fly close by and give you the willies.”
They can also hit targets with their talons, much like hawks and eagles.
“They just want to scare you. They don’t really want to engage, because they’re smaller,” St. John said. “But they can really mean business. They don’t give up easily.”
St. John said she and other falcon monitors were blindsided by the news that developers wanted to re-home the chicks and advised patience over permits.
The whole family will likely move on in four weeks when the chicks are able to fly, she said.
“Wait it out, and when the birds are gone, block up the space so they cannot fly into it — so that they decide this isn’t a good place to be, even though they have fond memories of this home,” she explained.
That month-long halt in construction will be better than confusing the new parents, St. John said, which could prompt the birds to attack more frequently and with greater force.
“Some birds don’t get over it for months,” she said. “[Construction] days will not be gained by this action.”
BET Investments has indicated development can’t wait. The company said in a statement, “Any further delay would not allow us to complete the historic renovations in time for more than 100 college students who will need to move into their apartments prior to the start of their classes in August.”
BET officials argue they’ve already paused work on the roof “out of concern for the safety of the falcons.”
In a letter to St. John and her colleagues, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said it was working on the permits on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s behalf.
“I can assure you the chicks’ health and well-being is our primary interest,” wrote wildlife management supervisor Samara Trusso. “We are working with a rehabilitator with peregrine experience to receive the chicks if necessary and rear them until they can be safely released into the wild as fledglings.”
Raising baby peregrines in captivity is fine but not optimal, St. John said.
“It’s always the best case that a bird is raised by its parents, because it needs to learn things from its parents that another species can’t teach them,” she said.
BET Investments agreed to cover all costs for relocation.
Peregrine falcons were welcomed Downtown nearly 30 years ago at the height of a recovery program to save the endangered species in the northeastern United States, according to St. John. The territory is only big enough for one pair at a time.
Both parents are tagged. Louie hatched at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in 2002, and Dori hatched in Akron, Ohio in 2007. The pair nested at Gulf Tower — visible online through the National Aviary’s round-the-clock camera — until 2012, when they chose a second home on Third Avenue. The parents welcome a new cluster of chicks most every spring at either location.