Peregrine falcons make nest on County Courthouse

Photo Courtesy of Tina Casey The peregrine falcon, nested on the roof of the Union County Courthouse.
Photo Courtesy of Tina Casey
The peregrine falcon, nested on the roof of the Union County Courthouse.

ELIZABETH, NJ — The City of Elizabeth is home to New Jersey’s largest falcon, the peregrine falcon. On the Union County website, live video is streamed from two live webcams that have been installed for viewers to see inside and outside the nest. The mother falcon laid a total of four eggs this spring. The falcon is characterized by long, pointed feathers and speedy flight. A mature falcon has bluish gray feathers.

“I think two eggs hatched either today or yesterday,” said Lisa Bullock, of Plainfield, who works in Elizabeth, on May 17. “It could be more. The eggs were red in appearance. The nest is located on top of the courthouse.”

The rest of the eggs are expected to hatch in just a few days. Those who missed the opportunity to view the birds hatching on the webcam this year will most likely have another opportunity next spring. A pair first attempted to build a nest in 2005, but due to windy conditions they encountered difficulties. In 2006, county workers installed a dog house to shield the wind. The nest is now nestled securely within the dog house.

Ever since, a nesting pair has raised chicks inside it each spring. The birds nest on the stony interior of the dog house.

“Over the past decade, the falcons have been seen in the courthouse tower,” said Sebastian D’Elia, communications director of Union County. “We installed the dog house a few years ago and the birds have been breeding ever since.”

Just last year, only 24 nesting pairs were reported in the state of New Jersey. Sixteen of the 24 nested on buildings, such as the County Courthouse. The same pair occupied the County Courthouse from 2006 to 2015. Last year they laid four eggs, which transcends the state average of two and one quarter per nest. The birds rotate the eggs to make sure they are all kept warm. This year, a new female took occupancy in the nest. Her leg band indicates she was born in New York City.

“The state will come in three weeks to band them,” said Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen. “I watched them get banded last year. Betty Ann Kelly, our environmentalist, was on the roof when the mom dive-bombed her. The mothers are very protective of their young. They’re hunting birds with large talons.”

The first camera shows the interior of the nest. It also captures an infrared image at night. The second camera captures the exterior of the nest. This year, an audio feed will be added. Union County is only one of two places in New Jersey with a live peregrine falcon webcam. The other webcam is located in Jersey City.

Due to habitat loss and pesticides, the peregrine falcon population has steadily declined in past years. It was one of the first birds to be conserved since the 1960s. By the 1980s, they began returning to the tri-state area. Since the year 2000, the average population is two dozen nesting pairs annually.

“By giving them a safe place to nest and an environment to procreate we can help preserve the species,” said D’Elia. “All four eggs usually hatch each spring so this must be a good, safe location. I like to think we’re helping to re-establish the species. They’re no longer considered endangered, but there’s not much else we can do besides provide a safe environment. The third egg hatched just this morning. Once the eggs are all hatched, mom will start bringing food to the nest. They eat birds. They’re plenty of pigeons in this area for them to eat. It’s amazing how many people are watching the webcam. Scientists, teachers, students, environmentalists and the general public are fascinated by the webcam. So far the site has gotten 8,000 hits. Pretty soon we’ll be able to hear the birds ‘communicate’ when the audio is installed.”