Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission Tuesday affixed special tracking bands to the legs of peregrine falcons that have hatched atop a state office building in Harrisburg.
The banding is an annual event that goes back to 2000, when the agency first began monitoring the offspring of falcons nesting on the building's 15th floor ledge with a web camera as part of an effort to help the recovery of a bird that is on the state's endangered species list.
Screeches of a 30-day-old female falcon chick filled an auditorium at the Rachel Carson Building downtown as Game Commission biologist Art McMorris began the banding process before a room of students.
"These birds are just as big as their parents," McMorris said, as he clutched the bird with both hands.
The Game Commission's efforts can only do so much to help the falcon population recover. This year, four falcons were hatched in the nest on the state office building. According to McMorris, 60 percent of the chicks that have hatched on the ledge either died or nearly died before being rescued from typical urban hazards.
"They were found on the street where they would have gotten run over, they flew into glass - things that don't happen out at cliff ledges," said McMorris.
The commission's tally of nesting falcons statewide last year was 32 pairs (the birds mate for life, and can live to be 12 to 15 years old). The state counted only four or five pairs statewide in 2000, when it began tracking falcons born in the office building nest.
The falcon program gets its funding from five percent of the revenue from fines and penalties collected by the Department of Environmental Protection.
What initially nearly wiped out the peregrine falcon was the use of toxic pesticides. The species has in recent decades been taken off the federal endangered species list. McMorris said that's due to its rebound in the western part of the country. In Pennsylvania, he said, numbers are growing, but they're still too low.
"I think there's an excellent chance that we'll be able to upgrade them from 'endangered' to 'threatened' and I think that there's a good chance that we can take them off the endangered species list entirely," he said, clarifying later the removal could happen in the next decade. "Now, that's my crystal ball - you can't hold me to that. That's my expectation, it is certainly my hope."
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