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4 falcons at home in Utah capital

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One of downtown Salt Lake City's four peregrine falcons perches outside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

One of downtown Salt Lake City’s four peregrine falcons perches outside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Salt Lake City residents' chances of spotting a peregrine falcon are better than they have been in years. No fewer than four of the once-endangered raptors are at home in Utah's capital.

A young male dubbed Peewee and his sister, Wendy, have joined their parents in patrolling city streets and searching for pigeons or other prey.

The peregrine falcon, scientific name Falco peregrinus, has made a good recovery after near extinction because of DDT pesticide, according to the group Defenders of Wildlife. The recovery has been so successful that the peregrine was removed from the Endangered Species Act in 1999, although it remains protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In Utah, the state's Division of Wildlife Resources and dozens of volunteers have been helping in the falcon recovery for many years. A nesting box on the Joseph Smith Memorial Building hosts the parent falcons. Last year, however, only one of the babies survived the hazards of crashing into plate glass on buildings and cars.

"We feel like we got two (babies) in the air this year," said Bob Walters, the DWR's Watchable Wildlife Program coordinator.

Peewee left the nesting box and began flying on July 2, with Wendy following on July 5. Walters and more than a dozen volunteers kept a breathless watch on the youngsters, ready to race to the rescue should one become injured or land in a busy street.

And they were needed.

Peewee twice bumped into the LDS Church Office Building and rescuers, who captured the bird as it fluttered to the ground, took the youngster to a hawk rehabilitator.

After a careful examination, Peewee was declared fit for flight and released. He has since been doing "very well."

Wendy flew from building to building and stopped on a honey locust tree near the entrance to the Church Office Building, Walters said. The crew of falcon watchers worried about what would happen when night came, because she might collide with a wall of glass.

"We got lucky," Walters said. "The wind came up about dusk."

The breeze caused Wendy to lose her grip. She fluttered to the ground, the watchers caught her, and she went to the rehabilitator overnight. Deemed unharmed, she was released to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

During their brief captivity, both birds were given leg bands to help identify them in the future.

The falcon rescue crew watched them diligently for about three weeks, but now the youngsters don't seem to need the help. Like young adults off on their own, they have adjusted to their environment.

"They're figuring out the glass and all the other hard objects in the big city," Walters said.

Still, sometimes the parents keep an eye on them. The youngsters have been hanging around various downtown structures, including the new Zions Bank building (the former Kennecott Building) and a microwave relay tower on the Beneficial Life Tower.

"Wendy seems to spend a lot of time on the First Security sign," he said.

Her brother likes to visit the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and the Salt Lake Temple. He has been known to return to the nesting box, "probably looking for food" at the old homestead.

Reports have come in of peregrines, probably going through flight training and hunting, in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

"Very likely all four are still in the area," Walters said.

He expects that all or most will take off for the winter. When the spring comes, if the adults are already back and the youngsters return, Mom and Pop will chase them away.

They'll head out 10 miles or so from the city. Otherwise, there might not be enough prey to go around.

Hence, the old saying: time for the kids to leave the nest.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com