The sky over downtown got a little too crowded Wednesday.
Two peregrine falcons competing for the same territory took their skyscraper-level fight to the pavement near midday, stopping traffic on Delaware Avenue.
Cars stopped as the falcons battled near the Dulski Federal Building at Delaware and West Huron Street. After a bloody skirmish with razor-sharp claws, one bird flew off; the second rested for a few minutes, and then also flew away.
The battle between competing peregrine falcons was a sign of the season, experts said.
"I would be happy with just one pair," sighed Mark Kandel, senior wildlife biologist with the Department of Environmental Conservation. "But it looks like we're heading for Bird Wars, all over again."
Traffic and the presence of humans may have terminated the battle, but the long-term outcome of the war is still unknown.
Kandel said a pair of the rare birds has been nesting downtown, and another falcon may have arrived in the area to compete. Falcons normally seek mates in January and then nest in high places, becoming highly territorial.
"They've been in our nest box on the Statler building for about a month," Kandel said. "They usually get territorial in February."
The bird left bloodied by the battle Wednesday apparently was the same bird that was beaten by another falcon here last year. A leg band appears in photographs taken by a Buffalo News photographer who witnessed the fight, and DEC spotters have been watching a banded bird in the nesting platform installed in a round window high on the Franklin Street side of the Statler.
That female bird hatched in Toledo in 1995, the offspring of Ohio's first breeding peregrine falcon in recent years. The bird was driven off by Buffalo's resident falcons in 1996, but then returned last year.
The earlier flight had earned the falcon medical treatment and several weeks of convalescence at the SPCA, before a successful release to the wild.
"This is exactly what happened that year," said Diane Obusek, a wildlife rehabilitator for the SPCA. "And it was March 28."
Nobody knows what has happened to the original Buffalo pair of falcons, which amazed onlookers and terrorized downtown pigeons when they took up residence around Niagara Square a few years ago. The pair produced three fledgling birds, the first successful hatchings in years, but then nested unsuccessfully last year.
Experts said the birds can be dangerous and shouldn't be approached, but a badly injured falcon could be covered with a box until help arrives.