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Falcons swoop in Wall St canyons of Wall St

ON WALL STREET these days it is not unusual to observe knots of pedestrians stopped in their tracks, staring open-mouthed at the sky. The object of their fascination will not be a passing plane or an eclipse of the sun. It will be the graceful circling of a pair of peregrine falcons.

Where only 25 years ago they were considered as good as extinct in North America, peregrine falcons are today making a steady if fragile comeback.

In the eastern US, where they used to flourish before being ravaged by the insecticide DDT, there may be as many as 100 nests. One is here at 48 Wall Street, one block north of the New York Stock Exchange, atop the 30-floor Depression-era headquarters of the Bank of New York.

So proud is the bank of its new tenants that the staff has named the nesting pair Alexandra and Hamilton after the bank's founder, Alexander Hamilton. And now there is an added reason for excitement: five falcon chicks were recently hatched. Even in the best conditions, the species can usually be expected to produce three or possibly four young at a time.

"Something good must be happening," said a National Parks Service ranger, Ozzie Rosa, who recently helped ring the offspring so that they can be tracked after they fly the nest. Another falcon's nest, on Grant's Tomb, on the Upper West Side, has also produced five chicks this season.

New York seems to have a special attraction for the rare birds. Mr Rosa believes there are 11 nesting pairs in the city. "The canyons of the city are more or less representative of the cliff dwellings they're used to," he explained. Other sites chosen by the falcons: the Met-Life (formerly Pan-Am) building in midtown, and the George Washigton Bridge.

Greyish-blue with white underparts, the falcons apparently find New York especially hospitable. One of their favourite meals is lazy plump pigeons, of which there is an abundance in the city. And in these parts they need fear only one predator, even a little more fierce than themselves, the Red Tail Hawk.

And there is at least one known pair of Red Tail Hawks on a ledge of a smart West Side apartment block, next door to the home of Woody Allen.