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Michelle Rydell, Published August 14 2008

Falcon freed at Forum

It was clear from the scattered bones and animal carcasses that a handful of endangered peregrine falcons had taken over the roof of The Forum as their feeding grounds.

But Dave Shasky didn’t expect to find a female falcon trapped in The Forum’s 40-foot sign affixed to the building early Tuesday morning when he climbed into the shaft to change the lights.

Expecting her to fly away, Shasky, the building maintenance manager, came back Wednesday morning to find the bird unhappily perched in the sweltering space. It was then that saving her became his top priority.

Her survival depended on a quick escape from the small, suffocating shaft with little airflow, but the bird seemed unwilling to find a way out of the same hole that had trapped her. It’s unclear how long the bird had been stuck in the sign.

Shasky suspects that the bird fell through a very thin metal sheath that was covering the sign’s opening.

The falcon was identified by her band numbers as Audrey Jean, one of three peregrine falcons born May 25 in the man-made nest near the top of the 12-story Bank of the West building in downtown Fargo.

Peregrine falcons were nearly extinct 30 years ago, and now 5,000 peregrines exist in the Midwest. They can survive in man-made nests other than their natural habitat of cliffs, which explain their preference for the tall downtown buildings the birds perch on regularly.

Until a nest was built in Grand Forks in 2007, Fargo was the only place in North Dakota that claimed a home for peregrine falcons.

The loss of one of Fargo’s newest peregrine babies would have affected many in the community who enjoy following the birds, said attorney Wick Corwin, who for the past 15 years has chronicled the activities of the peregrines from his law office east of the bank building.

“People are fascinated with them,” he said. “Because we only have one nest and they only have three or four babies each year and we know their names, we feel each individual loss.”

Corwin estimates that more than half of all peregrine birds die before they reach 1 year old.

“The most perilous time for any bird is when they’ve just left the nest. They still don’t fly well, and they’re young and dumb,” Corwin said.

With the help of The Forum’s pilot and avid bird watcher Keith Corliss, Shasky climbed inside the sign Wednesday morning and worked with Corliss for almost an hour to rescue the falcon.

Both wore protective gloves and goggles to keep them safe from the young bird’s sharp talons and beak, although Corliss was sure the bird wouldn’t harm them.

“It was a lone, fledged bird,” he said. “It was more scared than we were. We just wanted to get it out of there.”

The two worked as a team as Corliss grabbed one leg of the bird and pushed her to Shasky, who helped coax the bird out of the small opening. Corliss received a small scratch from the bird’s talons as he handed the bird to Shasky.

The bird flew out of the opening and up 13 stories to Fargo’s Radisson Hotel on Fifth Street North.

Corliss said the bird showed no sign of injury and it was unlikely the bird would try to rest on top of The Forum sign again.

“It’s a young bird. They make dumb, teenage mistakes,” he said. “(Saving her) was just the right thing to do.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Rydell at (701) 235-7311