The peregrine falcon had disappeared from east of the Mississippi River by 1960, with the last known successful Pennsylvania nesting in 1957. A recovery program was initiated by The Peregrine Fund in the early 1970s, which included the release of young peregrines initially raised in captivity. Two such falcons paired and immigrated to Pittsburgh, arriving in the winter of 1989-1990.
The Early Years (1990-2007)
When Western Pennsylvania Conservancy staff discovered the pair in April when they were observed hunting smaller birds around the city’s skyscrapers, WPC developed a plan with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to assist the birds in successful nesting.
An effort began to provide the pair with a suitable nesting site in the harsh city environment. After inspecting several of the taller buildings and interviewing their staffs, it was Gulf Tower management that first stepped forth and allowed WPC staff and volunteers to construct two nest boxes on an upper balcony of the Gulf Tower in January 1991. The peregrine pair immediately accepted the wooden tray filled with round gravel and began nesting there that year. The Gulf Tower has hosted a pair of nesting peregrines every year since 1991, and has been one of the most productive peregrine nest sites in Pennsylvania.
Given the success at the Gulf Tower, in 2002, in response to regular sightings of a peregrine falcon pair at the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus, WPC staff and dedicated volunteer Kate St. John worked with the University to establish the city’s second nesting platform high upon the building. A peregrine pair has used that nest and fledged young each year since the nest tray was built.
Results from the 1991-2007 Nesting Seasons
Gulf Tower – downtown Pittsburgh
Nesting at the Gulf Tower resulted in a total of 59 young from 1991 through 2007. During this period, 2 females and 2 males have been involved in the Gulf Tower pair. After the original male perished in 2003, he was replaced by a male that had hatched at the Cathedral of Learning nest the previous year.
Cathedral of Learning – University of Pittsburgh
The pair at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning has nested there since the platform was constructed by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 2002. The original pair grew up on office buildings in other cities: the female hatched in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1999, and the male in Columbus, Ohio in 1998. From 2002 to 2007 the University of Pittsburgh nest produced a total of 22 fledglings. The male successfully defended his nest against a challenger in March of 2007. The fight was captured in webcam images by the nest’s volunteer monitor, and the carcass of the intruder, a three-year old male from Cleveland, was found at the nest!
In 2007, WPC began working with the National Aviary on the Peregrine Recovery Program. Beginning with the 2008 nesting season, the Aviary took over the management of the project. With its expertise in bird care and its public programming and outreach, the Aviary is in an excellent position to carry the program to the next levels of conservation, research, and education. Project partners will continue to work together to ensure the success of Pittsburgh’s peregrines.
For a detailed history of peregrine falcon nesting in southwestern Pennsylvania, visit the National Aviary Urban Peregrine Falcons site.
Thanks to Project Partners
The success of the Peregrine Recovery Program in Pittsburgh would not be possible without the participation of project partners:
The National Aviary
The Gulf Tower
University of Pittsburgh
Robert Peirce & Associates, P.C.
Cool Beans Coffee Shop
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Volunteers
Kate St. John