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Endangered falcon chicks banded at Eberhard Center

  • The Michigan DNR team preparing to band one of the two peregrine falcon chicks.
  • The Michigan DNR team carefully removing the chicks to place them in a temporary holding box in order to evaluate their health, determine gender and band them.
  • While in the temporary holding box, the Michigan DNR team evaluates the health of the chicks, determines their gender and bands them.
  • The Michigan DNR team carefully placing the chicks back in the nesting box through a back door that was installed in 2017 to ensure the safety of chicks during the banding process.
  • The mother peregrine falcon dutifully watches over the banding process.

Posted on May 25, 2018

The peregrine falcon is listed as an endangered species in the State of Michigan but might not be for much longer. 

Two falcon chicks were born in early May in a nesting box installed on the roof of Grand Valley’s Eberhard Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus, adding more numbers to the diminished population in the state.

On May 24, a team from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources traveled to the roof of the nine-story facility to band the falcons. Banding birds with unique identification numbers creates opportunities to study migration, behavior, social structures, life-span, population growth, survival rate and more in various classes of birds.

Nik Kalejs, wildlife biologist for the Michigan DNR’s Wildlife Division, said Michigan is rapidly reaching a point where there may be more peregrine falcons in the near future than were found in the state during settlement times.

“Michigan was never really blessed with an extremely large peregrine population because historically they were always nesting in cliffs and high mountainous ledges,” said Kalejs. “Of course, that’s not a topographical feature that we have in abundance around here, but the restoration of the peregrine has been based around man-made structures.”

Kalejs said that power plants with tall smoke stacks and tall buildings in metropolitan areas, similar to those found in Grand Rapids, have proven to be the key element in restoring the species.

Both the male and female falcon chicks were banded with two bands: one on the right leg for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and one on the left leg that might give casual bird watchers an opportunity to identify the bird with binoculars or a spotting scope.

During the process, Kalejs and his team members carefully removed the chicks and placed them in a temporary holding box in order to evaluate their health, determine gender and then band them.

The two peregrine falcon parents made the nesting box their home in May 2017 after the box had been uninhabited since being installed in 2009 by Todd Aschenbach, professor of biology, and a team of students.

Since last year, four eggs have successfully hatched at the Eberhard Center, although the two born in 2017 were not banded. Kalejs said a crucial safety aspect of removing the chicks from the nesting box for banding is to make sure they cannot fall out of the open-air front of the box.

A door was added to the back of the nesting box after last year’s nesting season ended in the fall so that future chicks could be safely removed from the back since the front would be covered.

Bill Lucksted, assistant director of Pew Campus and Regional Centers Operations, said the university’s role is to be a kind and protective host for the falcons.

“We try to make sure that our normal contractors who work on the roof or heating and cooling are not disturbing them,” said Lucksted. “For us, the falcons also help control the pigeons on campus that usually make nests in the parking ramp across the street from the DeVos Center.”

Peregrine falcons were initially driven to the brink of extinction in the 1960s due to the use of the pesticide DDT. When DDT was banned in 1972, peregrines were added to the federal Endangered Species List. In 1982, peregrine falcon reintroduction first began in Minnesota and the birds were reintroduced to downtown Grand Rapids in 1986.

There is currently one other nesting box located in Grand Rapids, which is installed on the 63rd District Court building.

A grant from Grand Valley’s Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence allowed Aschenbach’s team to purchase and install a webcam in 2010 to monitor any inhabitants of the box.

The webcam can be viewed here: http://gvsu.edu/s/0sG