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 nests are few and far between and 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 are disregarded.

  • Adults: The primary nest monitor names the bird using these two rules.  If the peregrine was named at banding (some states named them in the past), that name is preferred.  Otherwise the primary monitor names the bird.
  • Nestlings/ fledglings:  The primary nest monitor assigns the juveniles’ names.
    • Prior to 2016 juvenile names were based on the colored tape on the silver USFW band on the nestling’s right leg. All solo birds were thus named Silver.
    • Nowadays Cathedral of Learning nestlings are named with the nest letter (C for Cathedral of Learning) + hatch number. For example, C1.
    • Beginning in 2017, Gulf Tower / Downtown nestlings are named G + hatch number.  For example, G1 through G3.
    • Note that when a bird grows up and nests, local monitors may choose a new 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. Ohio and Wisconsin named their peregrine chicks.  That is how Dorothy, above, received her name in Wisconsin.

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

So how did Pittsburgh’s peregrines get their names?

  • Morela, the current female at the Cathedral of Learning, is unbanded so we do not know her origin. She was named for the peachy color on her breast and face.
  • Ecco, the current male at the Cathedral of Learning, is also unbanded. Here’s how he got his name: The New Guy Gets a Name.
  • The adult female peregrine Downtown has not been confirmed in 2022 but is likely to be a new bird. Dori would be quite elderly at this point.
  • The adult male Downtown as of June 2021 is Terzo. Not named when banded in Cincinnati in 2013, he was the third male to nest at the Cathedral of Learning beginning in 2016. Terzo’s name means “third” in Italian. He 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, 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.
  • 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 near 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.

However, 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)