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As the bird turns

It's like a soap opera.

Two strangers from far away meet, the chemistry of attraction works its magic, and a son is born.

The son dies young in a tragic accident and the couple takes a break from one another, departing for destinations unknown.

They promised to be true and meet again in the same city to give their relationship another try.

A year later, she shows up but he is nowhere to be found.

A stranger very much like him wanders in. It's a brother she never knew he had and, again, chemistry works its magic. The stranger circles her and eventually wins her over, neither realizing they are closely related.

They make passionate love, not being able to get enough of one another.

"They've copulated three to four times in the last three to four days that I've seen them," said Tim Driscoll. "They could easily copulate three, four, five times a day."

Bird watchers like Driscoll are keeping an eye on the bedroom action of Grand Forks' two peregrine falcons because it proves the birds are together and breeding.

This would only be the second time peregrine falcons, a once endangered species, have nested and bred in the area.

Lost lover

Last year, a male from Fargo named Bear and a female from Brandon, Man., named Terminal settled in a nesting box on the Smiley water tower.

They had four eggs but only one hatched, a chick named Ozzie.

The chick grew to young adulthood and learned to fly, only to strike a live electrical wire and die instantly.

Bear and Terminator migrated apart, as is normal practice for peregrine falcons, though bird watchers expected they would return to Smiley this year. Birds of their feather mate together for life.

Now, if this were a soap opera, Bear would return suddenly, and there'd be an emotional battle between him and his brother, a peregrine falcon from Fargo named Roosevelt.

But it's not a soap opera.

"My assumption is that if he was alive he would've been here," Driscoll said. "He's three weeks late. I would be more surprised if he came back than if he was dead."

Family scandal

Even if Bear did come back, Driscoll said, it would be simply a battle between rivals. He doubts that Bear would recognize Roosevelt as a brother since the two have never met.

Driscoll said he's not absolutely certain they can't tell they're related, as his expertise is with the smaller Cooper's hawks, not peregrine falcons.

Birders, though, know that Bear and Roosevelt are kin because of an extensive tracking program in which volunteers put color bands on each bird and track them from year to year.

According to the Midwest Peregrine Database, Bear is the child of an 11-year-old male named Dakota Ace, originally from Sioux Falls, S.D., and an 8-year-old female named Frieda, originally from Alma, Wis. They nested on the Community First Bank in Fargo.

Roosevelt, now more than a year old, has at least 16 brothers and sisters, including Bear, who would now be 3 years old.

Driscoll said the fact that Terminator is now with Bear's brother isn't really that unusual. The peregrine falcon population in the area just isn't that large, he said. "So, the odds are not as crazy as it sounds."

In fact, the database shows that Terminator is the daughter of a male from Brandon, Man., named Zeus and a female from Fargo named Holly. And Holly, according to the database, is Bear's elder sister by two years.

So, in fact, Bear and Roosevelt have had "relations" with their own niece! A soap opera, indeed.

Seasons 2 and 3

So far, this unnatural, or rather, completely natural, union has not yet produced an egg, but Driscoll expects some any day now.

Typically, peregrine falcons would have about four, one every two or three days, he said. The females don't usually start incubating the eggs until the last one's out to ensure they all hatch at about the same time, he said.

If the youngest is several days younger than the oldest, he said, that could allow the oldest to edge out the youngest if there was not enough food to go around. This summer, though, appears to be a season of plenty, he said.

What happens in 2010, though, is more nebulous.

The city is planning to demolish Smiley the water tower after the peregrine falcons migrate away in the fall, which could put a crimp on a new nest the next year.

Driscoll, who originally placed the nesting box on Smiley, said he plans to put up more nesting boxes in high places around the city, hoping Roosevelt and Terminator will spot those new boxes and remember their location. Their kind's preference for high nests helps narrow his locations down, he said.

Peregrine falcons typically return to old nests if they've successfully raised young there, he said, and from Terminator's perspective, her baby, Ozzie, was a success because he was able to fly on his own.

If Roosevelt is as virile as his brother, there could be more young peregrine falcons this summer to continue the melodrama.