Endangered falcons make themselves at home in Upstate New York city

Rebecca Wolf

Two endangered peregrine falcons are caring for an egg in a crevice of the downtown M&T Bank building in what wildlife experts are calling the first documented peregrine nest in Utica, N.Y.

“Because they're an endangered species, this is a big deal that there is a nest site there,” Department of Conservation Wildlife Biologist Steve Heerkens said. “Our main concern now is that they are not harassed and able to incubate the egg.”

Heerkens said there are an estimated 50 active peregrine nests in the state. Most of the eggs in those nests hatched about a month ago, he said.

“We're not really sure when it was laid there,” Heerkens said of the Genesee Street site. “This is fairly late in the season.”

Spring Farm Cares Conservation Director Matt Perry discovered the egg June 4. He had been watching the site for about a month, and said the egg is no more than 3 weeks old, but most likely younger.

Heerkens said the egg will incubate for about a month.

The nest is the lowest documented peregrine nest in New York, at about the level of a four-story building. The next lowest nest site is at the 12-story level of a building, Heerkens said.

Heerkens said the low level of the next in Utica may be a problem when the egg hatches and it's time for the baby bird to learn to fly.

'I watch them every day'

The birds are catching the eyes of business owners in the area.

“I watch them every day,” said Craig Podosek of Podosek Accounting Services.

He owns the Winston Building across the street from the bank and was the first one to notify the DEC and Perry that the falcons were perching on the bank.

Podosek said he first started seeing the birds shortly after St. Patrick's Day. “It was during tax season, and I could hear them. … They're very loud birds when they talk to each other.”

Podosek, who now keeps binoculars in his office to watch the falcons, said the birds seem unfazed by the noise of the city. “I've watched them when fire engines are going down the street - they're just not bothered by them.”

But Heerkens said there is a concern the birds could be harassed.

“We don't want lots of people spending a lot of time in adjacent buildings talking loud around them,” he said. “If they're pushed too much, they'll bail.”

Male finds mate in Utica

The birds are not new to Utica.

Heerkens said the male has been around the city at least five years and is often seen perching on the Hotel Utica or the State Office Building.

He said the two falcons were seen last year exhibiting breeding behavior like “aerial courtship” and catching and storing food, but officials were unable to find a nest nor did they see any juvenile birds.

“This is a wonderful thing,” he said. “It's great to finally have a nest.”

Heerkens said that if the birds have a “successful nest,” they will most likely return to the same spot for years to come. If the egg fails to hatch, “they will be less attached to the nest site.”

“This is very exciting and an excellent opportunity for the community to appreciate the value of endangered species,” Perry said.

The DEC and bank officials met Thursday to discuss the birds, said Jean Hill, M&T Bank vice president of communications. “There are a host of things we're going to do to preserve the birds.”

The DEC and the bank will issue a joint news release next week and will continue to monitor the birds and the egg, Heerkens said.

Observer-Dispatch