CRADLE ROCKS AGAIN ON USF&G;'S LEDGE Resident falcons hatch 4 chicks


A great drama of nature is taking place again, high above Baltimore's Inner Harbor -- the revival of a bird of prey nearly wiped out just three decades ago by the pesticide DDT.

Baltimore's peregrine falcons, Beauregard and Felicity, hatched four robust chicks, known as eyases, this week on their 33rd-floor "cliff" at the USF&G; Building.

Hatchings have become an annual occurrence at the falcon "scrape," or nest, but it is the commonplace nature of the event that is so impressive. This year's clutch of eggs brings to 51 the number of peregrine young produced there -- accounting for more than any other known nesting site for the comeback of the species east of the Mississippi.

"Perhaps it is time to take them off the endangered list," said John Barber, a USF&G; manager and former Smithsonian Institution ornithologist who has watched over the nest since the first occupant, a captive-bred female named Scarlett, flew into town after being released from a wildlife refuge in 1978.

To executives in an insurance company, Scarlett setting up housekeeping on that ledge, outside what was then the USF&G; public relations office, may have seemed like an act of God for the vast amount of good publicity it wrought.

"From the bird's perspective," Mr. Barber explains, "it was nothing more than a towering cliff, with a sheltered nest and a staggering food supply." (The peregrines thrive on midair abductions of doves, pigeons and an occasional blue jay or robin.)

Until Beauregard arrived in 1983 to become the last of six males in Scarlett's life, Mr. Barber played an active role in the birds' lives by replacing Scarlett's infertile eggs with captive-laid eggs from Cornell University's Peregrine Fund program.

But Beau and Scarlett made news by producing and hatching their own eggs -- an environmental milestone eliminating the need for human intervention.

Falcons mate for life, but Scarlett's did not last long. She died in 1984.

Beauregard has since outlived a second productive mating with a female named Blythe, who died just before breeding season last year. The current full nest is his second with the young Felicity.

The 33rd-floor office is not open to the public and its door is locked to assure privacy for the birds. But Mr. Barber said a good vantage point for observers hoping to see the peregrines in flight is McKeldin Plaza at Light and Pratt streets.

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