The Chicago Peregrine Program

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Emily: So we’re back at the museum with Mary Hennen
who is Collections Assistant here in birds, as well as the director of the
Peregrine Falcon Program.
So, can you tell us a little bit about the background of the program
and how it relates to what we’re doing here at the Field Museum?
Mary: The program came around in the mid-80’s
when Illinois came onboard to try to help return the species to the state.
So you had a bird that was historically here
that was gone due to man’s influence.
That had to do with DDT
affecting the eggshells–too thin.
The weight of the adults crushed them.
And you had no breeding birds in the area.
And that’s called extirpation, when they go extinct in a particular area.
It turned out you can breed these birds in captivity.
They can learn to fly and hunt on their own
without the adults showing them how.
And it was those captive birds that became the base
for all our wild population in the Midwest and the eastern part of the U.S.
And as those birds were out in the wild
they began pairing up and breeding on their own
And surprisingly, this cliff-dwelling bird returned to cities.
Cities are great–they’re nothing but a pseudo-cliff, ample prey, no competition for the ledges.
And as those wild-breeding populations
start to go out, the ones that you were releasing from captive-bred,
you discontinue that.
Emily: So what happens if you live in a high rise in a building downtown
and all of the sudden you have some new roommates
in the form of a breeding peregrine pair?
What should somebody do in that instance?
Mary: That becomes so much more common now.
because you have these high-rise condos that the peregrines are going to.
Some people love them and it works out great–
they’re calm birds–and they’ll embrace them every year.
Some–“no, I don’t want them there.”
Well, once the peregrine leaves, there’s really nothing to the nest.
They make a scrape, which is just a depression in whatever substrate is there.
I’m going to hope you prevent them from using it again, because the peregrines will find another place to nest.
It’s better that they’re fine and do that and move to a safer location
than to be a problem for where they are.
Emily: What’s the significance of the numbers here on these bands, and why do you have two different sizes?
Mary: What you’re holding are used Fish and Wildlife Service bands.
It has a nine-digit number on it that’s unique, but it wraps around the whole band.
To be able to read that, look how close you’d have to look at it.
You’d almost need it in hand.
So what we do is put on another one, and it’s just called an auxiliary marker.
And that’s a lot easier to read through a spotting scope.
The difference in the size you’ve got is girls are bigger than boys in birds of prey.
And if there’s any doubt and you think you have a really big male, but you think it’s a male,
you still want to go with a larger band, because you know the leg is not going to outgrow that size.
So we get some funny-named males named “Emily”–there actually is.
Our prison male is named Emily.
Emily: Your prison male?
Mary: Prison male. One of our sites was on the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Emily: Oh! That must have been an interesting place to go banding.
Mary: Well, we couldn’t band there.
That was an inaccessible nest.
If you think about the prison, you can’t go out the window and go down to the ledge,
because they don’t want the prisoners to go out.
So that was one we watched from afar.
Then in the future, once they get out from the nest,
if somebody gets a picture, we can read that and record the data of where they’ve gone.
That’s how we know that one of our young went as far down as Ecuador.
Emily: And then, you know, at the eventual end of the poor bird’s life
somebody finds it and picks it up, and you still have that record.
And that’s when the bird can come back to a place like the Field Museum, and you still have this whole legacy
of all this documentation throughout the bird’s life.
You know where it went, what it was doing, to some extent.
Mary: Think of the collection like a giant library.
Emily: Yeah.
Mary: And it’s coming in, we don’t know the questions, or have capability to answer those questions.
Technology in the next 50 years could advance to the point of we learn more about that.
But here is the reference material for the future.
Emily: Yeah, because you can’t go back in time 50 years ago and get a peregrine from the same region
because they weren’t here at the time.
Mary: If you have the Tardis.
Emily: Yeah, we need the Tardis!
What’s the climate look like for these birds now? Are they still threatened in Illinois?
Mary: They’re doing great, and I’m so happy to announce this.
Because this is what you’re working toward, is to have a self-sustaining breeding population again.
They just recently a few weeks ago came off the Illinois state endangered and threatened species list.
Emily: That’s fantastic!
What would you recommend if somebody in Central or South America, or wherever the peregrine is found,
thinks that they might have one in their area?
Where should they go? Should they call you?
Mary: They can certainly snap a picture and email it that way.
I love cell phones, because it’s so much easier than somebody on the phone going,
“I’ve got a brown bird and it’s got stripes on it.”
That’s a lot of birds.
Emily: But through the use of social media you can start to get people to talking about these things
and keeping an eye out.
I think that’s one of the most important things.
Like, look to the sky.
It’s kind of hard to miss them when they travel so fast.
I mean, but then you do miss them, because they’re gone in an instant.
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49 Replies to “The Chicago Peregrine Program”

  1. Wow, by the way Mary is talking about the Peregrine you can tell that she LOVES this project and she loves these animals. It's inspiring to see such attachment to one's job AND subject of research 😀

  2. Congratulations to all the people at The Chicago Peregrine Program, Its good to know that sometimes we can fix our mistakes before its to late.

  3. I feel lucky enough to live close to a place where a peregrine falcon nest has been placed and there are cameras plus we can watch from telescopes on the ground as the baby peregrines grow up.

  4. Last winter I went to Chicago and up to the observation deck of the Seer's Tower and a peregrine was putting on a show for us. It kept swooping and soaring around the windows for a long time.

  5. I LOVE Peregrines. My parents work for the local cathedral, where Peregrines have been nesting in the turrets since 2001. Over the last 15 years 48 chicks have been raised.

    I'm so happy to hear the Chicago Peregrine Program has been successful in helping these beautiful birds in another part of the world!

  6. Hey! Do you remember the name of the peregrine breeder? I'm a Northern Illinois falconer, I may know them 🙂

  7. It's so cool how you teach us about all the awesome stuff nerds are doing that won't show up in our tumblr feeds ;D

  8. What do they eat in cities (I kind of hope you say pigeons)? Does their hunting overlap with human activity?

  9. Where I live there are no peregrines. However, in some years kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) nest in my the area. There's multiple reasons why I love them. Apart from being beautiful and elegant and majistic in flight, during the years they don't nest here there is maybe even a tenfold incerease in the local population of pigeons and doves. So when kestrels come back there's so much less bird poop I have the scrape off of my balcony railing. Sometimes they bulid a nest so close I can see the chicks. They're so fricking adorable. As a city inhabitant I just gotta love 'em birds of prey.

  10. Even though peregrines supposedly live in my area of the USA, I never saw one in the wild until a recent visit to California. They are amazing creatures, and I'm delighted that they're off the Illinois endangered list!

  11. Neat program. I used to attend UIC and on University Hall, the tallest building on campus, has a falcon family living on it. They even have a livecam on the nest.

  12. Yep, start with an easily disprovable and well known lie. The decline in the U.S. peregrine falcon population occurred long before the DDT years. [Hickey JJ. 1942. (Only 170 pairs of peregrines in eastern U.S. in 1940) Auk 59:176; Hickey JJ. 1971 Testimony at DDT hearings before EPA hearing examiner. (350 pre-DDT peregrines claimed in eastern U.S., with 28 of the females sterile); and Beebe FL. 1971. The Myth of the Vanishing Peregrine Falcon: A study in manipulation of public and official attitudes. Canadian Raptor Society Publication, 31 pages]
    Let us be brutally honest about DDT. It was public domain, couldn't be patented, is easy to make safely with minimal equipment and in large quantities at very low cost. This made small local pesticide companies (even municipalities and individual farmers) competitive with Big Chemical and they couldn't have that. The ban served the interests of Big Chemical. Sadly this is only one of numerous instances that environmental issues were used to promote the interests of big business.

  13. "if we had a tardis"


  14. I love seeing these guys back in Chicago and the surounding areas. I'm lucky enough to live near the Fox River and we get all kinds of raptors, lately, bald eagles!

  15. I live near the intersection of Division and Western. We have had a falcon family nest on the hospital there for the past three years.

  16. We have a similar program in Ohio that has also been tremendously successful, to the point where the state DNR is no longer banding chicks and we are seeing peregrines nesting unexpected places- like figuring out their own nesting spots on highway bridges in very flat and rural areas.

  17. A pair nests on a hotel ledge just a few blocks from where I work.  I remember being relieved to learn that, because the lane behind the building looked like a serial killer was honing his craft on small birds and mammals.

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