Courtship Flight

Dorothy, peregrine falcon, University of Pittsburgh (photo by Jack Rowley, 2004)Erie, peregrine falcon, University of Pittsburgh (photo by Ed Malarkey, 2002)Anyone who talks to me about birds knows that I am fascinated by peregrine falcons.  This obsession started with the individuals pictured here. 

On the left is Erie.  Born on the Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus, Ohio in 1998, he made his home at University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in 2001.  We know who he is because he has bands on his legs.  You can see them in the photo snapped by Ed Malarkey. 

His mate is Dorothy, photographed by Jack Rowley attacking with her talons.  She was born on the Firstar Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1999 and may have flown to Pittsburgh even earlier than Erie did.  She has bands too.

The fact that these birds have bands and names and were born on buildings makes it sound like they are tame.  Far from it!  They just happened to choose a building for their nest because the Peregrine Fund used urban sites for peregrine reintroduction after they became extinct east of the Rockies.  (A long story for a later blog.)

Peregrines are rare and charismatic birds.  I had hardly ever seen them when Dorothy and Erie captured my attention by doing a courtship flight in January 2001.  I reported what I'd seen on PABIRDS (a mailing list for bird sightings in Pennsylvania) and Dan Brauning of the Pennsylvania Game Commission urged me to look for their nest. 

It changed my life forever.  I can't stop watching them. 

Dorothy and Erie's nest failed that year but the next winter a nest box was installed on the Cathedral of Learning and that year was a success.  Since 2002 Dorothy and Erie have raised 22 young peregrines at Pitt.  Four of their offspring have established their own nest sites in Michigan, Ohio and downtown Pittsburgh.  Our pair are grandparents.

Winter is here and they are courting again.  Since mid-November when the weather is good or the wind is strong, I see Dorothy and Erie in courtship flight at the Cathedral of Learning.  Erie sometimes brings food to Dorothy to prove he's a good provider.  She knows he is, but they still go through the ritual.  It strengthens their pair bond and it's a beautiful thing to watch. 

For me it means spring is already on its way.

2 thoughts on “Courtship Flight

  1. Kate,

    I love your blog! I’m very interested in the peregrines and red tails on Pitt’s Campus. Someone left a present outside my William Pitt Union Window of a dead rat a couple of years ago…My guess it was the red tail who would often land there and take a peek in as I did therapy. Payment? Who knows! When will the cameras be in operation again? Is it only in Feb and March?

  2. A new and improved camera at the Pitt peregrine nest will be installed some time this month. I will feature it on the blog when it’s ready. Stay tuned!

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