Courthouse Falcons Proud Parents Of Four

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ELIZABETH — There’s good news from the maternity ward perched high above Elizabeth’s bustling downtown streets.

The Peregrine Falcons nesting atop the Union County Courthouse had four healthy chicks, three females and one male.

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The courthouse nest, more than 300 feet above street level, is one of only three known buildings with nests in New Jersey where the endangered falcons have made their homes—the others are on a high-rise in Jersey City and on the 23rd floor ledge of an Atlantic City hotel.

“In general, the peregrines in Elizabeth have done better than the ones in Jersey City,” said Kathy Clark, a wildlife biologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered Species Program.

One of the biggest problems in Jersey City is all the high-rise buildings that have a lot of glass.

“They can’t see the glass…it’s a dangerous place for young birds,” Clark said.

The Elizabeth falcons are also thriving because of the city’s pigeon population. “They are a substantial meal,” said the biologist.

Peregrine falcons were wiped out east of the Mississippi River decades ago due to DDT.  The pesticide inhibited calcium production in the birds, softening the eggshells which would break.

DDT was finally banned for agricultural use in the United States in 1972. That, and the passage of the Endangered Species Act are considered major factors in the comeback of many birds of prey, including the bald eagle, which was also near extinction.

“The bald eagles might have been better known, but Peregrines were the poster child,” Clark said. “Peregrines were completely wiped out east of the Mississippi by 1964.”

State biologists are now monitoring 24 Peregrine falcon nests across the state.  They have started to re-colonize the Palisades Cliffs along the Hudson River, along with roosting on the Delaware and Hudson River bridges, Clark said.

Healthy falcons will normally lay three or four eggs and the fact that the pair living atop the Union County Courthouse had four successful hatchlings is a good sign, said Clark, who recently went to the top of the courthouse to retrieve the chicks to band them.

In order to better monitor the falcons, the biologists would love it if the county installed a webcam on the roof, similar to other live webcams on the internet where large birds can be observed.

PREPARING TO RETURN… one of four Peregrine Falcon chicks to their nest high above the streets of Elizabeth, wildlife biologist Kathy Clark, from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered Species Program, sits on a ledge at the top of the Union County Courthouse while her assistant, Beth Balbierz, holds an umbrella in case the male falcon attempted to attack them. All four chicks were removed, tagged, and returned safely to their mother without incident.

BANDED FOR LIFE…each of the four Peregrine Falcon chicks, three females and one male, were given identification bands so that when they are sighted in the future, wildlife biologists will be able to track their development.

WATCHING VERY INTENTLY…A male Peregrine Falcon watches wildlife biologist Kathy Clark, from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered Species Program, as she prepares to remove the chicks from his nest so they could be tagged. Clark used a feather duster to gently push aside the female falcon so that she could reach the chicks. The nest is on the rooftop of the Union County Courthouse in downtown Elizabeth.

KEEPING WATCH OVER…his young, the male Peregrine Falcon continued to circle and swoop in while wildlife biologist Kathy Clark, from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered Species Program, first removed and then returned the falcon’s four chicks to their nest.  The male was not as aggressive as past years, which had Clark hoping that perhaps the falcons were becoming more accepting of the sporadic nest inspections. However, an umbrella was always kept close at hand just in case the adult falcons grew more aggressive.

TAGGING ONE OF FOUR… chicks recently born atop the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, wildlife biologist Kathy Clark, from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered Species Program, secures a band onto one of the chicks. There were four chicks, three females and one male, and were about the same age as chicks recently born in Jersey City.


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