Male Peregrine at Pitt Identified

Peregrine Falcon, E2, at University of Pittsburgh, July 4, 2008
Peregrine Falcon, E2, at University of Pittsburgh, July 4, 2008

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 Tasha.

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)

16 thoughts on “Male Peregrine at Pitt Identified

  1. I’m glad you finally know more about E2. Are there any plans to name him something other than E2 now? When a falcon is named, who does it?

  2. We won’t be changing his name. He is rightfully Erie the Second – which is what we meant by “E2.”

    In Pennsylvania, a peregrine is named only for the convenience of the observers and only when he/she is significant enough that people talk about him regularly. Naming usually occurs when they nest or are injured (in rehab) and is done by the people who deal most with the bird. It is not a formal process because they are not supposed to have names in PA.

    My friend Karen and I watch the Pitt peregrines every day (today we saw the whole family of 4). On a daily basis it is very difficult to continually refer to the adults without using names, so we called him E2. Dorothy was named in Wisconsin where they name their peregrines at banding.

  3. Kate, How interesting that he was finally able to be identified. He is a handsome fellow and local, also! I understand that there is no way of know how far afield he wandered, before he came back “home”, but any thoughts? Here’s hoping he will be back again next year with Dorothy. Since she is an older “girl”, how long are peregrines able to breed? Thanks so much for your wonderful blog. It has brightened many of my mornings!

  4. Yes, it would be interesting to know where he wandered after he left the Gulf Tower. When the Game Commission put telemetry units on some of the Gulf Tower birds in 2002, they found that in their first year many of them wandered east to the Jersey shore, Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake, then some came west the next spring. Maybe E2 did as well. He is obviously a confirmed Pittsburgher. I bet he’ll stay close to home this winter.

  5. I took a road trip out to missouri, there were a lot of large birds on the way, big dark birds with a pretty good wing span. They looked bigger than red-tailed hawks and falcons. Any idea what they might have been? I noticed them Illinois to missouri, maybe in ohio, and they were soaring near the high way.

  6. E2 is not related to Bo. It turns out I made a mistake about Bo’s identity because of confusion about which number comes first.
    E2 is 5*/4*.
    Bo is 4*/5*. Bo was born in Boston on the Federal Reserve Bank building in 2004.

  7. rpk,

    About the large, dark birds you saw soaring while on your road trip, my guess is they were turkey vultures.

  8. Thanks, Lauren. That’s my guess too. One more characteristic of turkey vultures that will help in the future. They rarely flap and they hold their wings in a slight V shape as they fly. V is for Vulture.

  9. LOL. So I guess E2’s sons and daughter are also sort of his uncles and aunt. Well, that’s good that you finally ID’d him. I’d been having some computer troubles the past week and only saw this today. E2 or Erie II was indeed a very prophetic name.

  10. Great photos on this site, and great information! I moved back to Pittsburgh from the Midwest in early 2004 and was fortunate to work at Gulf Tower that first year and have a front row seat for the brooding of that season’s chicks. I’ve come to look forward to hearing/seeing either a solitary peregrine or a pair overhead occasionally during strolls through Frick Park and have always assumed they were the Cathedral residents browsing a few miles afield.

    For the last 3 weekends, though, I’ve also regularly watched, from my front porch, a pair who seem to be hunting together up the hill from my house in Forest Hills, this would be slightly northeast of the Channel Four broadcast tower near the Parkway East Forest Hills exit. Could this be E2 and Dorothy five or so miles from Oakland? Or would this year’s newly fledged birds still be loitering in the near eastern ‘burbs. I’m puzzled at their consistent presence, since there seem to be few pigeons in the area (just lots of songbirds). It is near several parkway overpasses, however, so maybe there is a pretty good prey population beyond the trees towards the Westinghouse campus there before Churchill.

  11. Hmmm. I know red-tailed hawks hunt out there. I don’t know if the falcons do.
    Dorothy & E2 have been staying close to home. Today both of the juveniles were at the Cathedral of Learning too.

  12. I’ll check those birds more carefully with my binoculars if I see them again this weekend — maybe try for a photo if they hang around long enough. I’m sure these weren’t red-tails (though I do see RTH’s quite often in my area) — these were smaller, lighter-colored and exhibited the abrupt stooped diving I associate with falcons. I first noticed them due to a distinctive sharp cry, much like the one to which I’d become attuned from encountering the peregrines around Gulf Tower and above Frick Park.

  13. Sounds more & more like falcons. The immature falcons may be making short trips away from the Cathedral of Learning (CL) as they get closer to the time they’ll leave home. In June after they fledged the juveniles would fly together and call to each other – sort of a game. We haven’t seen them do this recently but they we haven’t seen both of them together except once a few days ago. I expect the juveniles will be leaving the Pittsburgh area soon – for who knows where.

    Tip on ID of juvenile peregrines in flight: If you can’t see anything except their shape and they are dark colored, look for a pale cream-colored band at the tip of the tail. This is easy to see if they’re backlit. The juvies have this feature, the adults don’t. Other birds of prey, including some buteos, have a tail band too so you have to ID by shape as well.

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