Early this spring I noticed a new male peregrine falcon had claimed the nest site at the University of Pittsburgh replacing the original male, Erie, who had nested there since 2002. The new bird’s identity was a mystery because no one had read his bands. Knowing we would refer to him frequently, my friend Karen and I gave him a temporary name for the sake of convenience. The name E2, meaning “the second Erie,” turned out to be prescient.
For many months he eluded us. He wouldn’t perch in sight of people and the webcam images were not robust enough to read his bands. So, after the young had left the nest Dr. Todd Katzner agreed to zoom the Aviary’s webcam in hopes we could capture a close-up of the bands.
Last week I obtained several good snapshots of E2’s bands and sent them out for second opinions with no hint as to what I saw. Six of us read the bands. Everyone saw Black/Green, 5*/4*. This means E2 was born at Pittsburgh's Gulf Tower in 2005, offspring of Louie and Tasha2.
This year he successfully fledged three young peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning with his mate Dorothy. Because he was not recorded nesting elsewhere, we presume this was his first successful nesting year.
The most interesting part of E2’s identity is his ancestry – and it’s why I asked so many people to read his bands. His father Louie was born at Pitt in 2002, offspring of Dorothy and Erie, so E2 is a second-generation descendant of his mate.
This is no big deal because:
- Peregrines are wild birds who do not socialize in flocks. They have no extended family. They know only their parents and nest mates.
- Peregrine genealogies have been well tracked for more than 30 years. Closer relationships between mates have occurred, including brother-sister and parent-child, without ill effects.
- Peregrine falcons choose mates from a relatively small gene pool. They were extinct east of the Mississippi only 35 years ago and have rebounded thanks to a captive breeding program begun in 1974 from the few remaining available adults. I don't know how many pairs were bred at that time but I've heard it was about 20.
- There are very few excellent peregrine nesting sites, thus concentrating the competition.
I had thought that E2 was a temporary name and we would find out his real name when we learned his identity, but Pennsylvania peregrines are not named when banded. Interestingly, his identity as Erie’s descendant means that we stumbled on his real name from the start. He really is "E2."
Amazing how that worked out.
(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)