The Chicago Peregrine Program

[[The Brain Scoop theme ]] 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. [[ The Brain Scoop theme ]]

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