June 26, 2009:
Sightings of the four peregrine falcons that hatched this year at the University of Pittsburgh are harder to come by these days.
They’ve been flying for three weeks and have ventured beyond the Cathedral of Learning to explore other buildings and other neighborhoods. On a good day I see two peregrines. Often I see none. They’re learning to hunt.
Only three days after their first flight, juveniles chase their siblings in games that improve their flight skills. After a week they try mock food exchanges: Two youngsters fly together, one flips upside down with talons extended, the other pretends to hold out food.
Their parents teach them the serious lessons. Pictured above, an adult peregrine has just dropped prey for his youngster to grab. The juvenile is learning eye-talon coordination and how to catch food while flying – something he’ll have to do for the rest of his life.
When Erie was the resident male at Pitt, he taught his youngsters these skills in the airspace between Heinz Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning. Digby, who was a Heinz Chapel wedding docent, told me that June weddings were often greeted by peregrines calling and chasing overhead. He warned the wedding planners that a white dove release might not be so beautiful with hungry birds of prey nearby.
For the past two years I’ve noticed E2 teaches his offspring near St. Paul’s Cathedral but yesterday he was back in the Heinz Chapel airspace, carrying food with youngsters in pursuit.
I missed the prey exchange but I saw the “kid” who caught it on his way to the steeple, chased by his sister.
Another lesson learned.
(photo by Kim Steininger)