Protecting UIC’s Peregrine Falcons

Anh Le is a junior majoring in Communications at UIC. As the Bird Protection intern for the Sustainability Internship Program, she is responsible for researching and drafting UIC's first Bird Protection Plan to help reduce the number of human-made bird deaths on campus.

In this blog post, Anh talks about UIC's Peregrine Falcons on campus and what we can do to help protect these birds and others on campus.

 

peregrine falcon  outside of UH window

Some of us might not know that UIC is a nesting site for the Peregrine Falcons and is featured on the Illinois Peregrine Sites section of the Field Museum website. Peregrines are charismatic birds that prey on smaller birds, such as pigeons and thrushes, which are all residing on the east side of the UIC campus. This makes the east side of UIC campus a hospitable habitat for the falcons.

During the 1960’s, the Peregrines were disappearing due to the usage of DDT and its byproducts. The accumulated droplets and residues of the chemical in the atmosphere acutely affected the species’ reproductive behavior, health of embryos, and thin lining of the eggshells that led to egg breakage. In 1973, the Peregrines were listed as an endangered species on the federal endangered species list. The Peregrines’ recovery was due to pesticide ban, specifically DDT, and the effort to reestablish the species. Fortunately, the species was removed from the federal list in 1999 and the State of Illinois’ list in 2014.

The UIC campus was home to the Peregrine Falcons since the 1980’s when the captive born chicks were released on campus after the species was listed as “Endangered”. Since then, about 36 eggs have hatched at UIC. This is an incremental remark in preserving the endangered species. In 1998, the UIC University Hall welcomed a pair of peregrine falcons have nested in an alcove on the 28th floor of the building. Since then, the falcons have regularly nested and laid eggs in the alcove of the UH.

The university has funded a live cam on the nesting site to record and provide daily footage of the falcons, which are available on the UIC website. The footage is provided from beginning early April through late June or until the last chick has fledged the nest. The UH’s most longtime friends are Mouse, an 8-year-old male falcon, and Nitz, a 19-year-old female falcon. Despite UIC’s efforts of banding the falcons on campus, there are some that remain unbanded for the time being. Experts from the Chicago Peregrine Program recommend banding as a method to keep track of the falcons that pay regular visit to the campus as soon as possible for this allows them to analyze the species’ longevity and dispersal.

This year, the UH 28th floor has once again welcomed Mouse and his family. According to Judee Olechno from the Office of the Chancellor, Mouse is a veteran male nester that fledged from a nest site in Lake View years ago. The female is not banded, so we do not have any background information about her. The couple gave birth to 3 chicks, two females and one male, which were banded on Monday, June 8th, 2020.

The Office of The Chancellor is holding a contest for UIC students to name the chicks. Once finalized, the names will be added to the Midwest Peregrine Falcon Program database. This news is worth celebrating because it is usually not a guarantee that the falcons will come back to nest on this ledge every year. For that matter, during the banding, the UH has a staff to specifically handle the chicks and cleans up the pea gravel of debris to make the spot more inviting and suitable as a nesting site for the falcons.

Recently, the UH went through a maintenance that lasted 18 months due to severe leaks and safety issues. Partly because of this, the falcons have not successfully nested for three years prior to this year. The other factor is Nitz’s old age. It makes it difficult for Nitz to compete with others for territory. Fortunately, 28th floor was specifically retrofitted with new windows with bird-deterrent finish and new gullies near those windows with pans and pea gravel to create a more friendly environment for the falcons and other bird species. To acquire this, the university has collaborated with Ms. Mary Hennen, Director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, to initiate proper changes regarding bird-friendly building for the birds. Ms. Hennen believes that the 28th floor ledge hits all the points that a falcon likes in a nesting site: high altitude for a wide range of sight and a cover to protect them from the winds.

UIC is beginning to review how its other buildings can become more bird friendly for other species of local and migratory birds on campus via drafting a Bird Protection Plan. Students began documenting bird deaths around Lincoln and Douglas Halls beginning in 2013. If you are interested in contributing to the plan, please join the Grounds subcommittee of the Chancellor’s Committee on Sustainability and Energy.