UNION COUNTY COURTHOUSE, ELIZABETH, NJ—-Three chicks, that were hatched by a pair of Peregrine falcons nesting atop the Union County Courthouse Tower in May, are preparing to take flight. In this photo, one of the three fledglings prepares to take his first flight off the roof of the courthouse. (photo credit: Natalie Gregorio)
Peregrine falcons have been nesting on the courthouse tower for at least six years. They had originally attempted to build nests around the tower, but failed, prompting the county and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to erect a nestbox in 2006.
Peregrine falcons are crow-sized predatory birds and are an endangered species, according to state wildlife officials. They are often stated to be the fastest animal on the planet in its hunting dive, the stoop, which involves soaring to a great height and then diving steeply at speeds commonly said to be over 200mph.
The falcons traditionally have nested on cliff faces and rocky outcrops, but as these habitats vanished, the birds turned to high buildings and bridges to build their homes. In the 1960s and 70s there was a steep decline in numbers, some believe from the widespread use of DDT, officials said.
Since the pesticide was banned, there seems to have been a slow increase in their numbers. State officials estimate that there are only 25 known pairs in New Jersey.