Falcon Hunts In City

WHEELING – Pedestrians walking near the old Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building at 1134 Market St. may have noticed a raptor’s leftovers on the sidewalk – primarily pigeon parts. Wings, heads and feathers have been known to land on the sidewalk in front of the building.

But the sight should not concern people. It’s likely is just a bird of prey doing its job, said Wendy Perrone, executive director of the Three Rivers Avian Center in Brooks, W.Va.

“They are keeping the bird population healthy. They take out the slow ones, the dumb ones and the ones not feeling well,” Perrone said of the raptors and their prey.

Cameron resident Scott Shalaway, a wildlife biologist, said the bird is a peregrine falcon. The falcons, he said, have been migrating to Wheeling to hunt for pigeons and other birds for years.

“They don’t nest in Wheeling – there are two in Pittsburgh that roam widely. Wheeling is a good spot to feed,” Shalaway said. “I was doing a daily radio show three years ago and we were talking about them then.”

Once endangered, the peregrine falcon population now is healthy and growing, and can be seen hunting in cities. Typically, the birds like cliffs, but they now are perching from bridges and tall buildings.

“They like window ledges to watch what’s going on. They stalk in flight. … They are so fast and powerful,” Shalaway said.

The downtown area likely is a hunting ground ripe for pigeons, as some people tend to feed the birds bread at nearby Heritage Port, just a few blocks away from the Wheeling-Pitt building.

Perrone said raptors can easily see their prey at such a distance and the former steel building is the tallest structure in the city.

“They can see three to four times better than we can, as far as distance is concerned,” Perrone said.

Perrone said peregrine falcons are “blindingly fast” and can reach speeds of up to 125 mph while hunting, and have been clocked at 260 mph while in a vertical dive.

She noted peregrine falcons may eat one to two pigeons a day.

As long as a food source is sustainable, the raptors will stay.

For example, near the capitol building in Charleston, W.Va., Perrone said as many as seven hawks have been seen hunting in the area.

Patty Morrison, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, said peregrine falcons love to eat pigeons.

She bets there is likely more than one hunting in the downtown area.