Uptown's Peregrine Falcon Success
The following photographs were shot by Kanae Hirabayashi. We thank her for her kind permission to use them.
Have you ever noticed large birds of prey soaring above the Lawrence and Broadway intersection, capturing their favorite meal --- pigeons? They can also be frequently seen at Montrose Beach, sitting upon the light towers. Have you ever walked beside Bridgeview Bank Uptown and observed pigeon parts on the sidewalk? A favorite perch for consuming dinner is atop the bank. Pedestrians often encounter the less delicious pigeon parts (head, wings, legs) on the sidewalk. And the bank maintenance staff has the unenviable responsibility of clearing the public way. (They seem to be good sports about it.)
In the wilderness, peregrines are cliff dwellers. They've adapted to the cityscape by nesting on bridges, fire escapes and the ledges of tall buildings.
As recently as 1990, there was only one breeding pair in Illinois, and it produced no young. Now Chicago-area breeding pairs are located in Waukegan, Evanston, Edgewater, Uptown, Lake View, Wacker Drive, Metropolitan Correctional Center, UIC, Pilsen, Lawndale, Hyde Park and Calumet. And the city of Chicago has designated the peregrine falcon its official bird.
Uptown's female peregrine, Zoom, has roosted in the neighborhood four consecutive years. She previously nested in Evanston. In 2004 she laid four eggs and all hatched; 3 females and 1 male. The chicks should fledge (learn to fly) in mid-June and spend another two months honing their flying skills and learning to hunt before striking out on their own.
Zoom was hatched in 1997 in St. Paul, MN. Her current mate, GG, was hatched in 2001 in Wheatfield, IN. He fathered Zoom's clutches in 2003 and 2004. Zoom's total productivity at the Uptown site has been: 13 eggs laid, 12 chicks hatched and 8 (and hopefully soon 12) chicks fledged.
We have not disclosed the location of Uptown nesting site for security reasons. We would hate to have area troublemakers/vandals interfere with the recovery of this threatened species. If you have knowledge of the site's location, we would appreciate your discretion in sharing the information.
In the 1950s and 1960s, these magnificent birds were nearly wiped out when their food chain was contaminated with pesticides, primarily DDT. In the peregrine and other raptors, the ingestion of pesticide residues caused the formation of thin-shelled eggs, which resulted in reproductive failure. By the late 1960s, the peregrine was gone as a nesting bird east of the Mississippi, a region that previously supported more than 400 peregrine pairs. The decline was so drastic that the falcons were not able to recover without intervention; there simply weren't enough of them left to repopulate. That's why captive-breeding programs, which sent nearly 1,800 young falcons out into the wild, have been such an important factor in the peregrine's return.
Captive Breeding and City Peregrines
In an attempt to augment the failing population, biologists in several countries bred falcons in captivity and released them to the wild. The 100+ pairs that now nest in the eastern US are all released birds or their progeny.
Since captive breeding began, peregrines have been introduced in dozens of cities, where they add a spark of wilderness to the skyline (and sidewalks). All that is needed to convert a skyscraper into a suitable falcon eyrie is to provide a tray on a window ledge with sand and gravel to give the falcons the necessary substrate in which to make their nest scrape and lay their eggs.
Urban releases have brought the peregrine and its message into million of people's lives. We are very fortunate to have a breeding pair and their offspring as neighbors.