May 23 2010

Question: How do peregrines get their names?

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Dorothy, adult female peregrine at the Univ of Pittsburgh (photo by Jessica Cernic)
Question: How do peregrines get their names?  Why do some have no names?

Answer: Actually the vast majority of peregrine falcons have no names.  Peregrines only receive names (from humans) when they hang out near people and do something that distinguishes them as indivduals.

Naming of wild animals is a sensitive issue, especially for scientists.  On the one hand naming a peregrine might give people the impression that it’s tame or a pet – which it isn’t.  On the other hand it’s unwieldy to constantly refer to a known individual bird as “the adult female peregrine at Gulf Tower” instead of “Dori.”  So the peregrines who live near people usually end up with names.

Some birds are named when they’re banded because the bands make them identifiable.  Whether they are given names at that point is up to the state agency in charge of wild birds.  Some places, such as Ohio and Wisconsin, name their peregrine chicks.  Pennsylvania takes the scientific view and does not.

If a peregrine is not named as a chick, it soon earns a name if it chooses to nest near people.  Those who watch the bird want to talk about it and are quickly frustrated by having to refer to it in vague terms, so they give it a name.

There are sometimes complications.  If the peregrine is banded it might have been named as a chick.  Should the observers wait until they read the bands to learn his name?  If it takes months to get a good read, what should they call him in the meantime?  When there are several names and a lot of people are involved how will they decide?  Rochester, New York used an online poll to pick the name of their newest female peregrine.

So how did the adult peregrines who live in Pittsburgh get their names?

  • Louie, the adult male in Downtown Pittsburgh, was born at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002.  He did not receive a name when banded but Pitt’s faithful observers, Karen Lang and myself, needed a way to refer to the fledglings so we gave them names that we used only between ourselves.  None of Louie’s nest mates were ever re-found but when he nested at Gulf Tower we told folks what we had called him.  The name stuck.  (That’s also the story of Beauty in Rochester, NY.)
  • Tasha, the previous adult female at Gulf Tower, was unnamed when she first arrived.  The female she replaced had been named Natasha so Tasha inherited part of her name when she inherited her nest.
  • Dori, the current adult female in Downtown Pittsburgh as of March 2010, has more names than most peregrines.  She was named Mary Cleo at banding and was given the nesting name, Dori (meaning wish), by her fans at Make-A-Wish whose offices are near the Gulf Tower nest.  This gives her a long name like a pedigree:  Dori Mary Cleo.
  • E2, the adult male at the University of Pittsburgh, was born at the Gulf Tower.  When Karen and I first recognized that he’d arrived at Pitt, we saw that he was banded and figured he probably already had a name.  We could not read his bands and waited a while to find out but the days of waiting turned to weeks – and months – so we gave him a temporary name, E2, because his predecessor was Erie.  When we found out where he was born the name stuck because he was not named when banded.  And he truly is Erie the Second.
  • Dorothy, the adult female at University of Pittsburgh, was born in Wisconsin where they name their birds at banding.  Dorothy was born on the Firstar Building and named for the parking lot attendant who watched her every day.

But the names are really for our own convenience.  To paraphrase T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (and substituting “BIRD for “CAT”)

“But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE BIRD HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.”

(photo of Dorothy, the adult female peregrine at the University of Pittsburgh, by Jessica Cernic)

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