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Rare downtown falcons tending five eggs in new nest

Five eggs expected to hatch at new nest next week

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You often get a new house when your family grows. That’s certainly the case with Ozzie and Harriet, Richmond’s rare falcon pair.

The peregrine falcons moved their nest this year from a 21st-story walkway at Riverfront Plaza by the James River to a 22nd-story opening in the east wall of Dominion Virginia Power’s building at Seventh and East Cary streets.

Harriet laid five eggs last month, her most ever. The norm is three or four. The eggs should hatch next week, and the youngsters should take wing in late May.

Richmond is becoming known for its eagles, herons and purple martins. But for “sheer magnificence,” it’s hard to beat the speedy, acrobatic falcons, said Barbara Slatcher, a Hanover County bird aficionado.

Eagle-eye viewers downtown occasionally spot the falcons diving, climbing and chasing birds to eat. When people turn out to watch thousands of purple martins roost at Shockoe Bottom each summer, the show often features a falcon zooming in to pick off a martin or two.

“Most people don’t ever see a falcon,” Slatcher said, “and to have them in the city of Richmond so everyone gets to see them is pretty unique.”

Considered the world’s fastest animal, the peregrine falcon is a crow-size predator that can dive-bomb a prey bird at 200 mph.

Devastated by pesticides after World War II, peregrines remain so rare that scientists are trying to help them come back.

There are more than 800 bald eagle nests in Virginia, but only 22 peregrine falcon nests. The downtown nest is the only one in the Richmond area.

People often mistake common hawks for the falcons, but the next closest falcon nest is on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge near Hopewell.

“Peregrine” means likely to wander, referring to the birds’ tendency to fly great distances. Ozzie and Harriet have also wandered about downtown. The Dominion building is their third nest site — and they have checked other places, including the Lee Bridge — since they settled in Richmond in 2003.

“That’s typical behavior,” said Bryan Watts, a bird expert with the Center for Conservation Biology, a research and education group. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, falcons like to move among nest sites, or eyries.

Richmond’s high-rises substitute for the cliffs that peregrines historically nested in, said Sergio Harding, a biologist with the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The Dominion site, with no walkway to hop around on — “just a sheer drop to the bottom,” Harding said — could prove challenging to the fledglings as well as people on the ground who will try to keep them out of traffic and other trouble when the youngsters take those first flights.

Ozzie is one of several falcons that experts raised and released from atop the Dominion building in 2000-2002.

Dan Genest, a Dominion spokesman, said, “The feeling of the employees I’ve talked to is it’s great that they finally came home.”

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