SEATTLE — Today, Seattleites will have a party to honor the city's new royal family, three precocious offspring and their devoted, hardworking parents.
But the guests of honor probably won't show up for the noontime punch, cookies, and award ceremony in the lobby of the Washington Mutual Tower: They'll be soaring above the city streets hunting for pigeons and learning to fly.
Parents Stewart and Belle are peregrine falcons, a species that has long been endangered in North America but has begun a comeback in recent years. Seattle's pair is different from peregrine falcons in other cities that were bred in captivity and then released. The birds here are native, wild birds that have chosen the city as their breeding ground, to the delight of bird researchers and local residents.
This week, their three youngsters are taking their fledgling flights, after which they will not return home. But their parents do still look after them a bit.
As the first eyas (nestling) awkwardly tested his wings Tuesday, both Stewart and Belle were close by, swooping confidently to encourage his progress, according to the Seattle Peregrine Hotline, which offers daily updates on the birds.
Two female offspring were expected to take flight yesterday or today, in time for the "fledgling party" being held by admirers below. Washington Mutual security cameras have relayed the bird family's life on a 56th-floor ledge to a video monitor below, where dozens of passers-by have been stopping daily for months.
After she laid three eggs in March, Belle took turns incubating them with Stewart until the eggs hatched six weeks ago.
Ray Congdon, a member of the volunteer Falcon Research Center that monitors the birds 24 hours a day, says this has been an unusual opportunity to learn more about their behavior and to educate the public about these raptors. The falcons, whose dives can reach speeds up to 200 miles an hour, find their prey (often pigeons) on city streets. Skyscrapers resemble the mountain cliffs to which they are adapted.
Peregrine falcons' near-extinction in North America is blamed on the now-banned pesticide DDT. The birds, whose name means "wanderer," are found on every continent except Antarctica.