By Joe Iorio, Media Relations Staff
On a cool, overcast day in late May, Chris Nadareski and a crew of Port Authority employees cast off on a 25-foot boat, hoping to tag three peregrine falcons.
After a quick 15-minute ride, the four-man crew arrived at the stand-alone nesting tower, which sits in the Kill Van Kull, adjacent to the base of the Bayonne Bridge. Once docked, Nadareski, a research scientist with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and his crew unloaded harnesses, goggles and other safety gear to make the 45-foot trek to the nesting box.
While the crew climbed, two adult falcons began circling the nest box – screeching and diving at Nadareski and Rich Kerney, a Port Authority maintenance unit supervisor who assisted in tagging the baby birds. When they reached the top, Nadareski and Kerney were pleasantly surprised to find three healthy falcons inside the nest box.
For decades, the falcons – first placed on the national endangered specifies list in the 1970s — have frequented Port Authority’s bridges to lay their eggs because of the high, open-air platforms these facilities provide. To help protect the birds and prevent any interference with bridge operations, the Port Authority constructed nesting towers beside each of its bridges in the 1980s, specifically for the use of falcons’ use.
Since the program’s inception, with the help of the city’s DEP, more than 150 falcons have hatched at these facilities – producing the largest peregrine falcon population in the world.
Although not traditional nests, the nesting tower version comes complete with small gravel used to cushion eggs, protective edges to prevent eggs or young birds from falling out, and perching bars from which the falcons watch their prey.
As part of the tagging process, each falcon at roughly three to four weeks old receives an identification band to provide information on the birds’ movements, including migration patterns and lifespan, as well as help monitor their overall health and condition. From this, Nadareski and his team learn a great deal about the birds and how they can further their population growth in the New York City area.
“I have been taking care of peregrine falcons in this area for decades, and each time that I climb one of these nesting towers I still get excited,” said Nadareski, who’s performing the spring tagging for more than 30 years. “This conservation program has been incredibly successful because the Port Authority has been instrumental in providing these birds with the facilities they need to reproduce and thrive in this busy, urban environment.”
Since the Port Authority owns and maintains the nesting tower, the agency is given the opportunity to name each falcon that’s tagged by Nadareski. This year’s names and their sources are a clever mix. Falcon 99 was named Barbara after Barbara Feldon, who played Agent 99 in the movie Get Smart. Falcon 100 was named Ben after Ben Franklin’s appearance on the $100 bill, and Falcon 101 was named Pongo for the loveable Dalmatian from the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians.