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Newly hatched falcons tagged on Charlotte skyscraper balcony

Joe Tomcho (right), conservation technician with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, holds one of the 3-week-old Peregrine Falcons Tuesday while Mark Hopey (left), director of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, measures his talons.
Joe Tomcho (right), conservation technician with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, holds one of the 3-week-old Peregrine Falcons Tuesday while Mark Hopey (left), director of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, measures his talons. Sylvia Gilland

A pair of 3-week-old baby peregrine falcons who hatched on an uptown Charlotte skyscraper were banded by scientists this week, the first newly hatched falcons to be tagged in the state in nearly 20 years.

The falcons are tenants on the 40th-floor balcony of One Wells Fargo Center, the only two nestlings to survive of the four eggs originally laid.

The parent birds nested in the shrubbery on one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers, and on Tuesday night, a team of raptor experts tagged the babies so that science might better understand how the birds live and what challenges they face.

Michele Houck, associate executive director at the Carolina Raptor Center, said the peregrine species was dramatically affected by DDT pesticide use in the United States decades ago. The Peregrine Fund, an organization that works to save birds of prey from extinction, repopulated them until they were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1999.

But Mark Hopey, director of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, said the birds remain endangered in North Carolina.

Houck said one way they’ve learned to survive is by finding nesting locations that mimic the high cliffs they typically nest on in the wild.

“They’re adapting to the urban environment in such a significant way,” she said.

After business hours on Tuesday, Hopey and his team took the One Wells Fargo service elevator up to the nest.

They watched the babies interact before slipping quietly onto the balcony sporting hard hats.

Peregrines are known for being among the fastest creatures in the world, with flight speeds around 200 miles per hour. Hopey said he anticipated the mother, who was keeping an eye on the nest from off the balcony, might attack.

“We were prepared for close encounters of the birdy kind,” he said.

But the 31/2-pound cannonball Hopey expected from above never came, though the mother stayed nearby, crying out for her young.

The talons on the young birds are not yet strong enough to inflict harm. Hopey said being clawed by them is like squaring off with “a weak kitty.”

After nearly 40 minutes, Hopey’s team had successfully placed a silver N.C. Fish and Wildlife tag on each baby’s right leg, and a bright red visual ID band on their left leg. They also took feather samples, measured their talons and weighed them, he said.

Tagging will allow researchers to monitor the falcons over the course of their lifetimes. Hopey said the peregrines have struggled to reproduce in North Carolina, and he hopes tagging these particular babies might help explain why.

Hopey said his team monitors nine of the 15 pairs of peregrines currently residing in the state, and he said only four of them are reproducing.

Every year, Childress Klein facility managers stop maintenance on the balcony toward the end of March in preparation for the birds’ arrival sometime in April.

Weeds grow, irrigation stops and bird droppings litter the granite floor. The public can watch the birds through a Falcon Cam that was installed by Childress Klein.

Hopey said the reason the birds chose Charlotte is still somewhat a mystery.

“I guess the Wells Fargo building fit the bill,” he said.

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