Pennsylvania has witnessed the remarkable recovery of three species of raptors in recent decades: the bald eagle, osprey, and peregrine falcon. This was almost unthinkable a half-century ago, when the man-made crisis of DDT threatened bird populations by thinning egg shells, sabotaging seasonal nesting efforts. As we all celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, DEP is proud to be part of the success story of peregrine falcon recovery, which has unique connections to one of Earth Day’s catalysts, Pennsylvania’s own Rachel Carson.
Peregrine falcons have made their home for more than two decades on the 15th floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building (RCSOB) in downtown Harrisburg, which is also home to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Four cameras allow year-round, day and night, live “Falcon Cam” streaming to give the world a glimpse into the life of these magnificent creatures at the most productive nest site in Pennsylvania.
It all began in 1996, when a male peregrine was spotted in Harrisburg. A city's many tall buildings provide plenty of high perches and ledges that mimic the cliffs where peregrine falcons commonly nest. Officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) scouted downtown locations for a suitable site to place a nest tray to see if it would attract a pair of peregrine falcons. The RCSOB site was selected for its covered ledge 15 stories above the ground, which provides some protection from severe weather. A nest tray was placed on the ledge, and the following spring, the male returned with a female partner.
From 2000 through 2020, the RCSOB nest has produced 89 eggs, of which 75 hatched (at the time of this post, three out of four eggs have hatched this year!). Over the years, each time one member of the mating pair has died or disappeared, another has promptly appeared to bond with the remaining partner and take its place. Thus, the individuals (four females and two males) nesting at RCSOB have changed over time, but they are linked in a continuous chain back to the original nesting pair. The current male falcon, W/V, is an astonishing bird who, at age of 17, has fended off younger, competing males in recent years to retain his nest and partner. He is now the oldest reproducing male falcon within Pennsylvania.
Falcon nestlings start as a helpless ball of fluff but grow at a rapid pace through the diligent feeding and care of both parents.
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Rachel Carson’s famous 1962 book “Silent Spring” was the seminal work leading to environmental regulations addressing DDT and other pesticides affecting birds like peregrine falcons. Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and worked for the federal government as a scientist and writer. "Silent Spring" addressed the dangers posed by DDT, which bioaccumulates in top avian predators and interferes with calcium metabolism, causing thin eggshells.
Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and ospreys have made a remarkable renaissance thanks to the environmental ethics and forward thinking of people like Rachel Carson, and subsequent decades of extraordinary wildlife management efforts. It is a happy irony, indeed, that they reside on the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg, which was named in her honor. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and always, DEP remembers Rachel Carson’s unique contributions to making such a recovery possible. We hope this success story will inspire our individual and collective conservation efforts to ensure that future generations of Pennsylvanians can continue to enjoy vibrant, diverse, abundant wildlife species.