ATLANTIC CITY — Forty-one floors high overlooking a busy summertime Boardwalk, a pair of New Jersey’s once endangered peregrine falcons found a home, at least briefly.

The birds started nesting on the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino roof while construction took place at the building last year. The state installed an igloo hoping the peregrines would move in, but instead one died and the other disappeared.

Zoologist Kathleen Clark is holding out hope for more birds in 2019. According to a report from the state Department of Environmental Protection released this month, the peregrine population increased last year as the species continues to rebound.

The pair at Hard Rock was living inside a broken light fixture next to a narrow, 8-inch ledge on top of the 41-story hotel.

They went undetected until a local birdwatcher reported their presence. One ended up falling from the ledge and dying before the state placed the small igloo on the roof, meant to serve as a new, safer habitat.

“I fully expected the pair would make the very short move. ... It was surprising,” said Clark, principal zoologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

They aren’t the only peregrines to settle atop Atlantic City’s towering casinos.

As the world’s fastest bird, peregrines typically live on cliffs and dive from heights at up to 200 mph to catch prey below. Tall man-made structures, like Atlantic City’s casinos, make perfect habitats.

A bird was found incubating atop the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino last year, but the eggs were laid on the concrete roof and did not survive.

“That was not a good site for actual nesting,” Clark said. “None of them ended up hatching.”

At Harrah’s Resort, an adult peregrine and a young fledgling were seen in 2018, Clark said. Clark hopes to establish a nest at the site this year, as well as at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, around where there was another recent sighting.

Harrah’s staff last reported a pair two years ago, said spokeswoman Noel Stevenson. One was nesting between two hotel towers and another atop the Waterfront Conference Center.

But the falcons might be shoobies. Once the warm weather and beach chairs are gone, they pack up, too.

“They usually arrive in the spring to nest and leave early fall,” Stevenson said.

Peregrines typically maintain a one-mile territory, but that’s reduced in cities. Urban areas are typically safer for the birds than cliffs, which are frequented by their predators, the large, great horned owls.

“They’re looking for tall structures next to water,” Clark said. “It’s taken some time for more pairs to get established in Atlantic City.”

The species was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 due to the effects of the pesticide DDT, which damaged the birds’ eggs. Peregrines were removed from the federal list 25 years later but remain endangered in New Jersey. They began nesting again on cliffs in the Palisades along the Hudson River in 2003.

In New Jersey, there were 40 nesting pairs and more than 41 young hatched in 2018, according to the DEP. Across South Jersey, there are nests in Stone Harbor, Wildwood Crest, Atlantic City, Drag Island, Ocean City, Marmora and Galloway Township.

One of the longest continually operated nests in New Jersey is at the former Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, where the birds gained a level of fame among staff when the casino was in operation.

The falcons have survived high winds, storms and numerous changes in the building’s ownership over the decades.

A pair first set up there in 1985, and the female began having chicks in 1988, but died in 2001. Another female arrived and began having babies until about 2013. Two fledglings hatched there last year.

With plans for the now-closed Atlantic Club in limbo, Clark said she’s unsure where they could end up.

She’s spoken with South Jersey Gas officials about possibly moving the nest to the utility’s nearby roof if the casino is demolished. Stockton University was in negotiations to buy the building from owner TJM Properties and raze it, but the deal fell through.

“That pair would then have a place to move to,” Clark said. “They have a tall building right next door, so that makes it the perfect spot to relocate.”

Contact: 609-272-7258 azoppo@pressofac.com Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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