May 15, 2015
Kate St. John admits she's a fanatic when it comes to Dorothy, the Peregrine Falcon. And even she didn’t think it would happen.
“Dorothy is old now. She’s 16 years old and that’s pretty old for a Peregrine Falcon,” St. John says.
But on Mother’s Day last week, Dorothy’s 43rd egg hatched. Dorothy is the Peregrine Falcon that nests on top of the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. She’s been in the city since 2001, and when St. John saw that Dorothy couldn’t nest that year, she called Pitt and the Pennsylvania Game Commission and they worked on installing a nesting box on the top of the Cathedral. Dorothy raised her young there for first time in 2002. Since then, St. John has monitored the falcon via a live camera feed the National Aviary hosts on its website. St. John also has a blog where she posts about birds and nature, and of course, updates on Dorothy’s health and progress.
St. John, though, was worried about Dorothy. Last year the falcon was egg bound, a life threatening condition in which a bird tries to lay an egg but can’t pass it. The condition can permanently damage a bird’s reproductive system, St. John says. Even if the bird survives, it may not be able to lay eggs the following year.
But Dorothy did. And she hatched one.
“Her first hatch [in 2002] was on Mother’s Day, so this is a nice bookend sort of situation,” St. John said.
St. John isn’t officially counting Dorothy’s hatch as number 43, though, because the bird hasn’t fledged, or flown from the nest, yet.
In 2013 Dorothy laid five eggs, but only two hatched. Of those two chicks, one was born so handicapped, it died within a week. The other one flew, but died in a car accident a week later.
“It’s very, very sad,” St. John says, “It’s just hard. Once you watch something that long you get invested in it.”
St. John says people are so interested in Dorothy and her young because Peregrines are very charismatic birds. Plus, there's the cute factor.
“The interaction with the cute, fluffy white baby and the mom is very, very endearing," she said. "For a bird that is brave and fierce and a top predator to gently turn her head with a little morsel of food and place it in the open beak is just so sweet.”