A flying peregrine falcon

DNR experts band four healthy peregrine falcon chicks at nesting box on GVSU campus

Department of Natural Resources wildlife experts on May 28 banded four peregrine falcon chicks that hatched and are currently nesting in a special box attached to the Eberhard Center.

DNR wildlife biologist Nik Kalejs said all of the chicks, three males and a female, are healthy. Kalejs and summer staff members Baylee Draper and Susanna Kailing banded the chicks as the angry, protective parents screeched, circled and swooped overhead -- an intense circumstance considering peregrine falcons have a swoop that can exceed 200 mph.

Kailing is a GVSU student majoring in natural resources management.

A peregrine falcon chick is banded.
A peregrine falcon chick is banded.
Courtesy of the Michigan DNR
Peregrine falcon chicks
A dispute erupts between peregrine falcon chicks.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Baylee Draper holds a peregrine falcon chick.
Baylee Draper holds a peregrine falcon chick.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

The chicks hatched over a few days at the beginning of May. Kalejs said the ideal time to band the birds for tracking is about 21 to 25 days after hatching; before then, they are too fragile for the procedure. And waiting too long after the 25-day threshold presents a different challenge.

"They grow fast and get pretty feisty pretty quickly," Kalejs said.

Grand Valley's webcams allow for monitoring of the nest and help make the university a key partner in the tracking of the raptors, which are listed as endangered in Michigan and threatened at the federal level, Kalejs said. The ability to pinpoint when chicks are hatched is crucial.

Peregrine falcon parents circle nesting box.
The peregrine falcon parents circle overhead during the banding of their chicks.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

The urban setting of the nesting box -- first installed in 2009 but not used by falcons until 2017 -- also helps with boosting peregrine falcon numbers in Michigan, Kalejs said. He added that the birds are "tremendous travelers," with those born in this state ending up all over the Midwest.

He noted that he banded the male of this year's Grand Valley nesting pair when the peregrine falcon was a hatchling in Port Sheldon near Lake Michigan.

Kalejs said it is fulfilling to work with the peregrine falcons, which he called a rare, special species in Michigan.

"They are consummate hunters, spectacular fliers and uncompromisingly fierce," he said.

A peregrine falcon parent circles the nesting box
A peregrine falcon parent keeps a watchful eye on those banding the chicks.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills