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Peregrine falcons thrive in Baltimore

Thirty-three years after an endangered peregrine falcon named Scarlett was released from her breeding facility and raised foster chicks and later her own hatchlings on a 33rd-floor ledge of a Baltimore skyscraper, the bird's heirs are still bringing more peregrines into the world.

The latest young falcon, or eyas, hatched earlier this spring and is expected to test her wings next month. She is the youngest in a nearly unbroken succession of close to 100 young peregrines to fledge from the same aerie on the former USF&G and later Legg Mason tower, at 100 Light St.

Craig Koppie, a raptor biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is keeping watch over the family.

"This year and last year, we've had the same pair," he said. Once given names such as Rhett, Tara and Ashley, the shifting cast of avian characters no longer gets names. But their pedigree is usually known.

"The male is from an apartment building in Richmond. I believe he's a 2007 individual, fairly young," Koppie said. "The female is a bird I banded back in 2002 … a local, from the Francis Scott Key Bridge."

Pigeons, cuckoos, Baltimore orioles and an escaped pet bird — perhaps a parakeet — have all fallen prey to the winged hunters this year.

Last year the current occupants of the ledge raised three young. The female laid five eggs this year but only one hatched. With enough funding, the failed eggs will be tested for pesticides or other contaminants.

Peregrines were once driven to extinction east of the Mississippi by eggshell thinning and reproductive failures traced to the now-banned pesticide DDT. Efforts to bring them back in Maryland have proven wildly successful.

Scarlett and her mates began conceiving and hatching their own eggs in 1984, and their successors have kept it up. Their offspring have flown off to found other successful aeries across the Northeast.

Koppie said there are now 20 known nesting pairs in Maryland, 10 of them west of the Chesapeake. A pair nesting on the Key Bridge failed to hatch their eggs. But a new pair at Sparrows Point hatched four. There's a pair near Hart-Miller Island, another urban pair somewhere in Silver Spring, and a new couple nesting in natural cliffs near Harpers Ferry.

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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