There's good news from the maternity ward perched high above Elizabeth's bustling downtown streets.
The Peregrine Falcons nesting atop the Union County Courthouse had four healthy chicks, three females and one male.
The courthouse nest, more than 300 feet above street level, is one of only three known buildings with nests in New Jersey where the endangered falcons have made their homes—the others are on a high-rise in Jersey City and on the 23rd floor ledge of an Atlantic City hotel.
"In general, the peregrines in Elizabeth have done better than the ones in Jersey City," said Kathy Clark, a wildlife biologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Endangered Species Program.
One of the biggest problems in Jersey City is all the high-rise buildings that have a lot of glass.
"They can't see the glass…it's a dangerous place for young birds," Clark said.
The Elizabeth falcons are also thriving because of the city's pigeon population. "They are a substantial meal," said the biologist.
Peregrine Falcons were wiped out east of the Mississippi River decades ago due to DDT. The pesticide inhibited calcium production in the birds, softening the eggshells which would break.
DDT was finally banned for agricultural use in the United States in 1972. That, and the passage of the Endangered Species Act are considered major factors in the comeback of many birds of prey, including the bald eagle, which was also near extinction.
"The bald eagles might have been better known, but Peregrines were the poster child," Clark said. "Peregrines were completely wiped out east of the Mississippi by 1964."
State biologists are now monitoring 24 Peregrine Falcon nests across the state. They have started to recolonize the Palisades Cliffs along the Hudson River, along with roosting on the Delaware and Hudson River bridges, Clark said.
Healthy falcons will normally lay three or four eggs and the fact that the pair living atop the Union County Courthouse had four successful hatchlings is a good sign, said Clark, who recently went to the top of the courthouse to retrieve the chicks to band them.
In order to better monitor the falcons, the biologists would love it if the county installed a webcam on the roof, similar to other live webcams on the internet where large birds can be observed.
"They looked great…they look exactly the same age as the chicks in Jersey City. It is really neat when you see all four eggs hatch," she said.
Union County Freeholder Deborah Scanlon, the freeholder board's liaison to the parks, said the idea of a webcam so residents could observe the local avian celebrities could be a lot of fun.
"We will look into the feasibility of putting a camera on the roof," Scanlon said. "But as the experts have advised us, we would have to wait until early fall because the chicks are still too young and their parents incredibly protective."
The young birds are not out of the woods yet, for soon they will have to learn to fly and hunt, and urban settings, with all the streets and buildings, present many challenges.
"It's nature and there tends to be losses at any stage," Clark said, asking that if anyone comes across an injured falcon, to call animal control officials immediately.
In the wild, Peregrine falcons will live approximately 20 years. They are territorial so once the chicks are able to hunt for themselves, they will have to find new digs.
In order to reintroduce the falcons to New Jersey, biologists had to turn to falconers whose birds had not been exposed to the DDT. At least 60 young falcons were released in the Garden State between 1975 and 1980, with the first nesting pairs sighted in 1980, Clark said.
"All indications are that they are going to continue to recover," Clark said.
Falcons from New Jersey are now being relocated to the Appalachian Mountains to help restore them to that habitat, she said.