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Two peregrine falcon chicks relocated from Norris Bridge

VDOT environmental specialist Theresa Tabulenas (left) and research biologist Libby Mojica hold the pair of peregrine falcons that were relocated from the Robert O. Norris Bridge on Friday. The female chick (right) is white and is slightly larger than the male chick (left). (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

The chances of two peregrine falcon chicks growing up to be the world’s fastest birds improved greatly last week when they were relocated from their nesting box on the 2.1-mile Robert O. Norris Bridge, which spans the Rappahannock River from Topping to White Stone.

The chicks are about a month old and will try to fly in the next two weeks. If they had been left on the bridge and failed to fly on their first attempt, they will fall more than 100 feet into the river, where they might have drowned or been eaten.

An endangered species, there are only about 25 known peregrine falcon breeding pairs in Virginia, said Libby Mojica, research biologist with the Center for Conservation Biology, which is part of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Pickett explained that peregrine falcons feed on pigeons, which also inhabit bridges. These raptors take their prey by diving at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. They kill prey primarily by striking them from above with partially-closed talons and catching them in mid-air as they fall. These high-speed strikes take the form of free-fall dives called “stoops,” according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website

“The bridge structures give them a site to launch from,” said Pickett.

VDOT has peregrine falcon nesting boxes on 10 bridges in the Tidewater area. Pickett said he also has seen peregrine falcons near the Downing Bridge, which crosses the Rappahannock River at Tappahannock.

The Coleman Bridge over the York River between Gloucester and York counties has had a peregrine falcon nesting box since the late 1980s.

Check out the Falconcam!

The introduction of peregrine falcon to urban areas is part of a strategy to recover the species, following precipitous declines of its populations in the middle of the 20th century, states the DGIF website. Peregrine falcons may live 16 to 20 years in the wild.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 05.07.2014

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