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3 young falcons debut


Three 10-day-old peregrine falcons made their media debut yesterday from the 33rd-floor ledge of the United States Fidelity & Guaranty building.

Covered with snow-white down, they huddled in a corner of their nest box and dozed. The male, snuggled between the two larger females, raised his head briefly.

Felicity, their mother, sensed the camera crews and others inside behind the one-way window and screamed a succession of sharp, hoarse distress calls.

Peregrines, still endangered in the United States because of past poisoning by the now-banned pesticide DDT, have been raising young above the Inner Harbor since 1979.

John Barber, a USF&G; manager and "resident ornithologist," had thought a brood was unlikely this year.

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.

That left Beauregard without a mate. But then 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 such as Felicity, often produce infertile eggs, Mr. Barber said.

The USF&G; falcons were among eight known peregrine pairs in Maryland this year. Craig Koppie, who coordinates peregrine-recovery programs in the mid-Atlantic region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said five of the pairs -- those at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and four sites on the lower Eastern Shore -- produced 12 young. All have left those nests, he said.

Until the young falcons, or eyases, at the USF&G; building 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 yesterday.

The eyases' wing and tail feathers will begin forming within several days, Mr. Barber said. After they learn to hunt for themselves, they will be driven away from the nest by the adults, he said.

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

Many falcons die prematurely, particularly in urban areas.

A male born at the USF&G; nest last year was found dead three months later at Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Biologists think it hit a window while chasing prey.

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