The Central Bank building in downtown Lexington is home to many of the city’s larger law firms and one of its biggest banks.
But its most celebrated and unique tenants don’t pay rent.
Lexington’s only known pair of peregrine falcons live on the roof of 300 West Vine Street. A little more than a month ago, the pair became parents to four fledglings — three males and one female. The Lexington pair are one of 17 known pairs of peregrine falcons in Kentucky.
Nationwide, the peregrine falcon population was nearly wiped out in the 1970s because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. After DDT was banned, falcon and other raptors began to come back.
The male and female pair are thought to be the same pair that had two chicks on top of the Vine Center last year — the first year in recent memory that a pair of falcons had chicks in Lexington. The Vine Center, 330 West Vine Street, was also where falcons were reintroduced in Kentucky between 1993 and 1999.
As the population inched back thanks largely to reintroduction, falcons were removed from the endangered species list in 1999.
A federal program to monitor falcon populations was discontinued in 2015, but the state continues to track the birds. It also tracks the state’s bald eagle population.
On Wednesday morning, Loren Taylor, a non-game avian biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, stood on the patio of the 21st floor of the Central Bank building and peered through binoculars to the roof several stories up at a wooden box placed there by fish and wildlife for the four fledglings.
One of the young male falcons was perched on the ledge, flexing and pumping its wings. That’s a good sign, Taylor said. The fledgling was building up its pectoral muscles so it could fly. Mom and Dad weren’t there. They had four mouths to feed and were probably out hunting, she said.
“They eat mostly pigeons here in Lexington,” she said.
That’s good news for downtown Lexington businesses — including Langley Properties, which owns the Central Bank building. Pigeon control can be costly.
But the commotion and activity on the patio — several stories down from the fledglings’ box— soon brought the new parents back to the Central Bank roof.
The mother — who comes from an area near Monaca, Pa. — came swooping down off the roof, darting at Taylor and others gathered on the patio.
“She’s a good mom,” Taylor said of the falcon she affectionately calls “Monaca.”
Monaca has become even more protective of her young, Taylor said. When Taylor visited Monaca and her newborns last year at the Vine Center, she was a little less aggressive. But she did use countermeasures to keep humans from her kids.
“She did poop on me once,” Taylor said, laughing. “Fortunately, I was wearing a hard hat, but it went everywhere.”
On Wednesday, Taylor was more focused on the male. The bands on his legs — placed on peregrine falcons for tracking purposes — are unique. Taylor wanted to make sure that this male was the same one that paired with Monaca last year. But falcons are fast — some have been clocked at more than 200 mph — and Taylor couldn’t see the band as the much-smaller male darted and dived around the patio to keep humans away from his four kids. On Wednesday, the flour fledglings were 36 days old.
So why nest on on top of Central Bank?
Falcons in the wild nest on top of cliffs, typically on the edges of rivers. The falcon population in Kentucky was once predominantly along the Ohio River, Taylor said. Most of the falcon pairs in Kentucky make nests on top of manmade structures: bridges, tall buildings and power plants. There is one pair in Kentucky that has moved to a cliff, Taylor said.
“Lexington’s pair is unique because they aren’t near water,” she said.
Falcons also don’t build nests. They typically make a dent in a hard, gravelly surface and place the eggs there. “That’s why they nest on the top of buildings; it’s because of the gravel roof,” Taylor said. Fish and wildlife staffers put the wooden boxes on the roof to give the fledglings more protection.
Will the four baby falcons stay in Lexington? Maybe find a mate and move to the Fifth/Third building?
Don’t bank on it, Taylor said.
Once falcons can fly, they don’t necessarily come back to the place they were born, she said: “Their nature is to disperse.”