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Raptors roost high atop Gil’s bridge

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Talk about a bird’s eye view.

A family of Peregrine falcons is living high on the hog—atop the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.

The avian family got its latest, and fluffiest, additions on approximately May 29, a day before officials discovered two chicks in a nest on the south tower on the Queens side of the bridge.

Those that oversee the bridge’s operation are content to give the birds free lodging.

“We are very careful to let nature take its course and leave the nest undisturbed,” said John Ryder, general manager for both the Marine Parkway and the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridges based in the Rockaways.

“The falcons keep coming back here to nest so they must find our bridge very hospitable,” Ryder said.

For over a decade, the same female falcon and her mate have nested and raised chicks at the seaside crossing. Peregrines are monogamous through several breeding seasons.

When members of the maintenance crew first took notice of the falcons several years ago, they set up a box in a small never-used platform on the tower—installed as a gun turret during World War II—which the falcons have since turned into a nest.

When the falcons returned again earlier this spring, Bridge Maintenance Superintendent Carlton Cyrus, along with a wildlife biologist and falcon expert representing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, climbed the 218-feet tall tower to unobtrusively check on the nest and see whether any eggs or newborns were in residence, according to Joyce Mulvaney, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels.

“We wear protective gear and are careful to keep a safe distance so the mother does not perceive us as a threat,” said Cyrus.

Mulvaney said the mother falcon is “extremely protective.” If anyone gets too close to the nest, she will “go after their head.”

Agency personnel are always careful to avoid any work near nests during the falcons’ mating season (February to March), and work closely with wildlife professionals on efforts such as identification tagging.

Mulvaney said any wildlife that doesn’t interfere with the operation of the bridge is left on its own. “We let them do what they want and hope they keep coming back,” she said.

Officials said the chicks will grow quickly—especially their sharp claws. By the time the birds are three weeks old, their talons will have grown to the same size as those of an adult falcon (nearly as large as an adult human hand).

The new chicks will soon eat about four or five times a day. Their diet consists of small birds caught by their mother.

In the coming weeks they will begin to practice flying, but will remain dependent on their mother for protection and food for another eight weeks.

City-based falcons seem to like building their nests atop bridges, church steeples and high-rise buildings since they historically live on high cliffs where they can spot prey and have open space to hunt, the MTA noted.

In addition to hosting the falcons, the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge has average daily traffic of 23,000 vehicles. More than 7.9 million vehicles made the crossing in 2007.

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