Rare Falcons Hatch Chicks In Lancaster County
A team of local volunteers and the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s peregrine falcon coordinator on July 13 found the nest on the Route 462 bridge spanning the Susquehanna River between Columbia and Wrightsville, York County.
After reaching the hidden nest made from chunky dirt and cement gravel, they weighed and banded two fuzzy chicks while the falcon’s parents screeched their disapproval and made swooping passes.
The happy occasion comes after the male and female adult falcons had laid unhatched eggs for three successive years on the Route 462 bridge and the Route 30 bridge just upriver.
Meredith Lombard, a Columbia birdwatcher who first discovered the falcons’ nesting activity in 2007 and has kept tabs on them ever since, feels like a proud parent herself.
“I am so happy for everybody involved that there are chicks there and a potential fledgling coming up in August. I intend to be there,” she said Tuesday.
Trying to raise a family had been a series of disappointments for the falcons. In 2007, a team walking the catwalk under the Route 30 bridge found three broken eggs. The following year, two unhatched eggs were found under the bridge. Last year, three unhatched eggs were discovered.
Again this spring, it looked like the same story. Observers saw the female apparently incubating in April. That attempt seems to have failed.
But they didn’t give up. The pair was seen copulating in flight in mid-May. Falcons have been known to try nesting again if the failure is early enough in the season.
This time, everything clicked. Several weeks ago, birders saw the male making deliveries of food under the bridge. Then, begging calls were heard, giving rise to hope there were chicks.
That was confirmed when Art McMorris of the Game Commission and Jeff Musser, a Conestoga birder not afraid of heights, found the nest.
The chicks were placed in soft mesh bags and weighed, then fitted with bands and colored tape to tell them apart.
The chicks were estimated to be 24 days old on July 13 and should attempt to fly the first week of August.
The future of the chicks is still fraught with danger as the nest is mostly surrounded by open water.
“We have to await the blessings of God to see if they survive,” said Charley Albin, 75, a birdwatcher from Landisville who manned a boat in the Susquehanna during the banding mission.
Jack Gilbert, a Game Commission biologist, was in a kayak holding a rescue net underneath the pillar that supported the nest, just in case.
From leg bands, it was de- termined the mother of the chicks is 4 years old and was hatched on a Richmond, Va., skyscraper. She was relocated to a cliff on a mountaintop in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park before finding her way to Lancaster County.
The adult male is about 5 years old and was hatched on a manmade tower at Southmarsh Island Wildlife Management Area on an island in Maryland in the lower portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
He was then relocated to a cliff overlooking West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
The local nest is the 22nd successful peregrine falcon nest in Pennsylvania this year – the most ever recorded. Falcons, though listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, are making a remarkable comeback in the state after disappearing in 1965.
According to “A Guide to the Birds of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania”: “Peregrines nested in Lancaster County in the 19th century. There are no nesting records in the early 20th century, but nesting did occur sometime in this century.
“The female of the last nesting pair was shot Oct. 27, 1947.”
If the young successfully navigate their first flights, it is hoped they will stay in the area with their parents at least until fall so they learn how to hunt and hone their flying skills.
The nest is not visible from either the Lancaster or York County shoreline. However, a favorite perch for the adults is a bare tree about midriver on the upstream side of the bridge. That may be viewed with binoculars or a spotting scope from the river park at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville.
The falcons also sometimes appear on various arches and openings visible from Columbia Riverfront Park at the west end of Locust Street in Columbia.
Another pair of peregrine falcons was believed to be nesting on a railroad trestle at Safe Harbor earlier this spring, but apparently abandoned the nest.