Jun 26 2009
Sightings of the peregrine falcons born this year at the University of Pittsburgh are harder and harder to come by these days.
Now that they’ve learned to fly, they’ve ventured beyond the Cathedral of Learning to explore other buildings and other neighborhoods.
On a good day I see two out of a possible six peregrines in Oakland. Often I see none. One thing’s for certain. They’re learning to hunt.
Young peregrines learn their life skills in at least two ways The first is by play. Only three days after fledging juvenile peregrines chase their siblings in a game that perfects their flight and maneuvering abilities. Soon they add mock food exchanges to their repertoire. Two youngsters fly together, one of them flips upside down with talons extended and they pretend to exchange food the way they’ve seen their parents do.
Their parents teach them the serious lessons. Pictured here is an adult peregrine holding prey down for his youngster to grab in a real life food exchange. The young peregrine is learning eye-talon coordination and the ability to catch food while flying – something he’ll have to do for the rest of his life as he hunts on the wing.
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 used to work at Heinz Chapel, told me there were many times when a wedding party leaving the Chapel in June would be greeted by peregrines calling overhead and chasing their father to grab dinner. Digby used to warn the wedding planners that if they wanted to release doves on the campus lawn, they shouldn’t expect to get them all back!
For the past two years I’ve noticed E2 prefers to mix it up a bit. He starts teaching his offspring near St. Paul’s Cathedral perhaps because there are more pigeons over there. When those pigeons become wary he moves to another location. Yesterday he was back on campus in the Heinz Chapel airspace.
What luck that I got to see them at lunchtime! The entire peregrine family was perched on the Cathedral of Learning facing Heinz Chapel. The “kids” were obviously hungry and restless. Suddenly E2 dove straight down the face of the Cathedral of Learning and soared away on the hunt.
I waited under a shade tree (it was hot!) and soon the youngsters flew off the building in excitement. E2 was returning with food. I missed the prey exchange (my shade tree blocked the view) but I saw the “kid” who caught the prey carry it to Heinz Chapel steeple, pursued by his sister.
Another lesson learned.
(photo by Kim Steininger)