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10-day-old peregrine falcons make downy debut on USF&G; ledge


Baltimore's latest crop of pigeon-killers made their media debut today. But they hardly resembled the fast-flying predators they will one day grow to be.

Dressed in snow-white down, the 10-day-old peregrine falcons huddled in a corner of their nest box, which overlooks the Inner Harbor from a 33rd-floor ledge of the United States Fidelity & Guaranty building.

Mostly, the two females and one male dozed. The male, snuggled between the two larger females, raised its head briefly.

Felicity, their mother, was clearly agitated, sensing the movement of camera crews and others inside the building behind a one-way window. Sitting on a ledge, she screamed a succession of sharp, hoarse distress calls.

The scene above the Inner Harbor is not new. Peregrines, still endangered in the United States because of past poisoning by the now-banned pesticide DDT, have been raising young there since 1979.

This spring, John S. Barber, a USF&G; manager and "resident ornithologist," thought none of it would be possible.

Blythe, the resident female falcon since 1984, disappeared around March 1 and was found dead April 20 on the roof of a city office building. She appeared to have become immobilized and starved, but tests to determine how she died were inconclusive, Mr. Barber said.

That left Beauregard, the resident male, without a mate -- but only for about two weeks. Felicity flew in from the wild blue yonder and quickly formed a bond with Beauregard. Felicity laid four eggs in early May, and three hatched.

"There's just a tremendous amount of excitement that, despite the tragic loss of Blythe, we still were successful in having young this year," said Mr. Barber, a former Smithsonian Institution ornithologist.

Newly formed peregrine pairs, and younger falcons like Felicity, often produce infertile eggs, Mr. Barber said.

Until the young falcons, called eyases, learn to fly by late July or early August -- and learn to hunt soon thereafter -- the parents will bring food three to five times each day. Remains of pigeons, flickers, shorebirds, gulls and other prey were scattered around the nest ledge today.

The eyases will start forming their wing and tail feathers within several days, Mr. Barber said. After they learn to hunt for themselves, the adults will drive them away from the nest, he said.

If they live to leave the nest, they will bring the total of peregrines raised at the USF&G; building to 47.

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