How do peregrines get their names?

Dorothy, adult female peregrine at the Univ of Pittsburgh, 2009 (photo by Jessica Cernic)
Dorothy, adult female peregrine at the Univ of Pittsburgh, June 2008 (photo by Jessica Cernic)

Question: How do peregrines get their names? Why do some have no names?

Short Answer: 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 individuals.

Peregrine pairs often have devoted nest monitors who privately name the birds for their own convenience. Our tradition in Pittsburgh is described below.  Within this tradition naming suggestions from others are generally ignored.

  • Adults: If a name is desired the primary nest monitor is the one who names the bird. Some states still name peregrines at banding and some of those birds end up in southwestern PA. If we discover a bird was named at banding, that name is preferred.  In any case, the primary nest monitor chooses a name.
  • Nestlings/ fledglings:  It is the policy of the PA Game Commission not to name wild birds, including peregrine falcons at banding.
    • Banded nestlings/fledglings may be temporarily named for their band numbers or for the colored tape affixed to the silver USFW band on the nestling’s right leg. Young peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning are temporarily named by the color of the tape such as “Yellow” or “Blue.” If there is no tape the name is “Silver.”
    • Note that when the bird grows up and nests, local monitors are free to choose a permanent name.

As of 2022 many of Pittsburgh’s adult peregrines are unbanded and most are unnamed. Their names, if they have them, are publicly known because I write about them.

The Long Answer — The Reason Why Naming is Such a Sensitive Issue:

After peregrines went extinct east of the Mississippi in the mid 20th century, the Peregrine Recovery Program used captive breeding to reintroduce them to eastern North America. Peregrine chicks were routinely banded during this period and were sometimes officially named during a banding event. Pennsylvania did not name peregrine chicks; Ohio and Wisconsin did.  That is how Dorothy, above, received her name when banded in Wisconsin in 1999.

As the peregrine population recovered slowly west to east, each state de-listed the species, banding ceased, and so did official naming. Pennsylvania removed peregrine falcons from its Endangered and Threatened lists in 2021. Throughout the recovery period the PA Game Commission took the scientific view and did not name the birds.

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.  However 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. 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 the 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 (actually confirm) Beauty’s name when she arrived in Rochester.

So how did Pittsburgh’s peregrines get their names?

  • Carla at the Cathedral of Learning was named when banded in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Read her story here.
  • Ecco, the current male at the Cathedral of Learning, is unbanded. Here’s how he got his name: The New Guy Gets a Name.
  • The unbanded adult female peregrine Downtown was a new bird in 2022.
  • The adult male Downtown as of June 2021 is Terzo. He was not named when banded in Cincinnati in 2013. As the third male to nest at the Cathedral of Learning I named him Terzo which means “third” in Italian. Terzo moved Downtown in 2020.

Names of past peregrines:

  • Tasha, the adult female at the Gulf Tower prior to 2010, 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.
  • E2, the adult male at the University of Pittsburgh -2016, was born at the Gulf Tower.  When Karen Lang 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.
  • Erie, was the first male peregrine at Univ of Pittsburgh, hatched in Columbus, OH in 1998. Disappeared in Oct 2007.
  • Dorothy, former matriarch peregrine at University of Pittsburgh, 2001-2015, was born in Wisconsin on the Firstar Building in 1999. She was named for the parking lot attendant who watched her every day.
  • Louie, deceased in 2019, was an adult male in Downtown Pittsburgh. He 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.)
  • Dori, the adult female in Downtown Pittsburgh 2010-2021, had 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 indoors from the Gulf Tower nest.  This gives her a long name like a pedigree.
  • Hope, the former adult female at the Cathedral of Learning, was not named when she hatched at the Benjamin Harrison Lift Bridge in Hopewell, Virginia in 2008.  When she began nesting in the Pittsburgh area she was nicknamed Hope for her birthplace. She could just as easily been named Well.
  • Morela, the former female at the Cathedral of Learning, was unbanded so we do not know her origin. She was named for the peachy color on her breast and face.

Names, however, are 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)