It seems there is good news every year about the slow recovery of peregrine falcons in Pennsylvania.

This year, its that a pair of the state-endangered birds have established a nest in Union County, on a cliff overlooking the Susquehanna River. It is the third time in five years that peregrines have nested in what was once their natural habitat in Pennsylvania.

The nest, which contained a single chick, was discovered by a bird watcher, who reported it to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“Since the early 1990s, peregrines have established about two dozen nests in Pennsylvania, mostly on buildings and bridges in the state’s larger cities,” game commission Executive Director Carl Roe said in a prepared statement. “But, in 2003, a pair of peregrines nested successfully on a cliff in Lycoming County. It signaled a new era for Pennsylvania’s peregrines; the birds were finally transitioning to the more than 40 cliffs they had previously nested on.”

To understand the excitement about a total of three cliff nests requires knowing the background of efforts to restore peregrines, which were among several raptor species that suffered population declines in the 1940s and ’50s widely blamed on the pesticide DDT.

Fifty years ago, there were no peregrines nesting in Pennsylvania, and by the 1960s they no longer nested anywhere east of the Mississippi.

When falcon reintroductions began during the 1970s in several northeastern states, biologists put them on the same cliffs where they had nested historically. But without their parents to protect them, so many of the young birds were eaten by great horned owls that it threatened the restoration projects.

To get around that, game commission Wildlife Conservation Education Specialist Joe Kosack said, those responsible for the reintroductions moved their efforts to big-city skyscrapers, and the birds adapted. There now are 22 known urban nests in Pennsylvania on buildings and bridges.

But city life presents its own set of problems. Cars, collisions with windows and falls off bridges into rivers have claimed fledglings. Youngsters raised on cliff faces stand a better chance of survival. In addition, reintroduction cannot be considered a complete success until the birds return to their natural habitat.

“We are thrilled that peregrines continue to prosper in Pennsylvania,” game commission Wildlife Diversity Section supervisor Dan Brauning said in a news release. “Each new nest strengthens their recovery. But we’d like to see peregrines continuing to return to the cliffs on which they used to nest. This ongoing – and hopefully increasing – natural expansion from urban areas, coupled with the reduction in threats that cliffs offer will solidify their future and restore one of the state’s most exciting predators to the wild areas they once thrived in.”

Although Pittsburgh does have a celebrated peregrine pair on its Gulf Tower, the falcons remain uncommon here, as they apparently were in the past.

“The West doesn’t have nearly as many compared to the East and Central,” said Pennsylvania Game News Editor Bob Mitchell. “They were pretty much on the Susquehanna and Delaware river watersheds.”

That’s consistent with the location of Pennsylvania’s other two known active cliff nests, which are in Luzerne and Lycoming counties.

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