Five peregrine falcons are scheduled to be released in June atop the Idaho First Plaza in downtown Boise as part of an effort to re-establish the endangered species.
At first, the peregrines will lead a pampered life, dining on fresh quail and roosting at a prime hunting spot on the 19-story bank building.Later, the birds - the first to be released in an urban setting in the Northwest - may scatter to Idaho's wilds, the nearby Snake River Birds of Prey area, or they may seek out similar quarters atop other downtown buildings.
The urban release of peregrines has a dual function, Idaho Fish and Game officials said - boosting the number of nesting pairs, and offering close-up views of peregrine nesting and hunting.
"The more birds you can get out there the better," said Wayne Melquist, state manager of non-game wildlife. "This also serves as an educational tool. People will learn about an endangered species and watch them in action."
City dwellers should particularly enjoy watching peregrine falcons hunt because of their extraordinary flying abilities, Melquist said. Peregrines cruise at 40 to 60 mph and can dive at speeds exceeding 200 mph.
The birds, which will be brought from British Columbia, are known to kill prey by clenching their talons and smacking their prey with a mighty punch.
The birds will be monitored with video equipment when they are first placed in a "hack box," which also will serve as a nest.
The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey south of Boise is offering technical support. Two bird groups, the Golden Eagle Audubon Society and the Boise Valley Falconers, will help feed the falcons.
Urban areas have proved to be productive places to release peregrines, Melquist said. More than 20 pairs have been established in cities such as Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Toronto.
Melquist said the Idaho tax check-off funds for non-game wildlife are paying for the urban release program. Purchase of the five birds will cost $4,000. Fresh quail will cost $500 to $1,000 until the birds are old enough to capture their own prey.
Fish and Game hopes to continue releasing peregrines in downtown Boise for two or three years, he said.
Idaho, which had about 25 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons at one time, has only two nesting pairs right now, Melquist said. Widespread use of the insecticide DDT caused a major decline in peregrines from the 1950s to the late 1970s, when Idaho had no nesting pairs.
In the past six years, 81 young peregrine falcons have been released in southern Idaho. Most of those birds have flown to other parts of the West, he said.