Flying falcons draw rooftop bird watchers in Wilmington

Bill Stewart of the Delaware Ornithological Society shows a young bird watcher where to see a falcon roosting on top of a building in downtown Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Bill Stewart of the Delaware Ornithological Society shows a young bird watcher where to see a falcon roosting on top of a building in downtown Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Most bird watching adventures begin with a drive into the country or a walk in the woods. But for dozens of birdwatchers in Delaware, their latest outing started with an elevator ride to the top of a parking garage in downtown Wilmington.

The rooftop of the City Center Parking Garage offers panoramic views of the city and the Brandywine Creek, but more importantly for these visitors, it offers a clear look at a falcon nest built outside the 19th floor of the Brandywine Building.

Falcons soar through the sky above downtown Wilmington. The birds were closely monitored by dozens of bird watchers as part of the Delaware Ornithological Society’s 12th annual falcon watch. (Courtesy Jerry am Ende/Delaware Ornithological Society)

A webcam was installed outside the box 12 years ago in a cooperative effort by the Delaware Ornithological Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The idea behind that was to bring this incredible experience of these falcons that live in Delaware in this urban landscape — fastest animal in the world — out to the general public,” said Bill Stewart, former president of the Delaware Ornithological Society.

When first installed, the webcams were viewed 10,000 times in one day during prime viewing season as the falcon chicks hatched. “We have a lot of what we call ‘falco-holics’ because they watch the webcam all the time,” he said.

“We try to be really good ambassadors because the more people become aware of their environment, whether it’s birds or plants or flowers or pollinators, the more they become aware the more concerned they are,” Stewart said. “Once you become concerned then you normally will be motivated to take action to help protect.”

Last week, dozens of bird watchers gathered for 12th annual falcon watch event in Wilmington. It was a chance to see several of the four young birds hatched in their 19th story box this spring before they fly the coop and leave the city for good. “By August, the parents kick them out of town, so they’ve got to find their own territory,” Stewart said.

Wilmington has been working to get more people to move into the city’s downtown area, but the city’s falcons have been much less welcoming to newcomers moving into their city. “These falcons that stay in Wilmington, they have to defend this territory because they get interlopers all the time,” Stewart said.

Falcons soar through the sky above downtown Wilmington. The birds were closely monitored by dozens of bird watchers as part of the Delaware Ornithological Society’s 12th annual falcon watch. (Courtesy Jerry am Ende/Delaware Ornithological Society)

 

The species was once endangered by pesticide DDT which softened the shells of falcon eggs, so they couldn’t support the weight of the mother bird during incubation. Their numbers dropped to just a few hundred in North America. Since DDT was banned in 1972, the birds have recovered. “With a lot of effort from a lot of agencies, the peregrine falcon has been delisted,” Stewart said. “It has come back in a robust fashion.”

He said there are nesting pairs living on every bridge over the Delaware River and over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. A couple pairs live in Philadelphia and couple reside in Harrisburg.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.