Madison Gas & Electric officials looked to the sky for inspiration in naming their latest batch of baby birds.
Young peregrine falcons Jean, Witt, Paul and Billy were introduced Wednesday during a tagging event at the utility’s Blount Street power plant. Their names were chosen to honor prominent Wisconsin aviators, including the state’s first deaf pilot, Jean Hauser; air racer Sylvester “Steve” Wittman; Experimental Aircraft Association founder Paul Poberezny; and Air Force Gen. William Mitchell.
In what has become an annual Madison spectacle, falcon expert Greg Septon snatched the young falcons from their nesting box atop the utility’s Blount Street power plant while an assistant waved a broom to fend off the agitated adult peregrines from swooping attacks.
Septon, amid a fury of squawking, wrapped the fuzzy white falcons, one by one, in a calming blanket and attached tags to help track the once-endangered species’ populations and movement.
Because of their secure nature, power plants have played a key role in reviving the species. Power plant nests account for nearly half of the 1,300 peregrines born in Wisconsin over the last three decades, Septon said.
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MGE installed the nesting box in 1999 as part of a class project for plant manager Steve Schultz’s son, Cole. The box sat empty for a decade, but has hosted mating pairs that have produced offspring each year since 2009.
Of the 33 known nests in Wisconsin, MGE’s has become one of the most successful. It’s produced 31 eggs, all of which have hatched, and only one of the young falcons failed to fledge.
“Peregrines have adapted to this new world that wasn’t there 100 years ago,” Septon said.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. A previous version incorrectly stated the year Madison Gas & Electric installed a peregrine falcon nesting box atop its Blount Street power plant. The box was installed in 1999.]