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The Naturalist's Corner: Windy City peregrines

Urban peregrine in Virginia. wildlife.virginia.gov photo Urban peregrine in Virginia. wildlife.virginia.gov photo

My bride and I spent a few days in Chicago last week. She was there for a business seminar and I was there for moral support. But, alas, I also had work to do so after walking with her to the 737 Building on N. Michigan Ave. I returned to our room and began recording data from this year’s Forest Service bird points. Our room was on the 26th floor and with the curtains open I had a view of the Chicago skyline. I sat there, entering data and watching it rain. I posted a photo of that rainy day scene on Facebook. Friend and Facebook friend, Janice Irwin, asked if I was looking for peregrines. I said sure and spidermen and went back to my work.

The rain ended a bit later and I glanced up from my desk and through my 26th floor window noticed a bird gliding toward me. The bird turned left on E. Superior Street just outside my window and, in profile, I could clearly see the bluish back, white undersides and black peregrine hood. I don’t know if Janice is clairvoyant or if she knew about Chicago’s peregrines or urban falcons in general, but the encounter piqued my curiosity.

I remember years ago (late 1990s,) peregrines would occasionally be reported from Asheville’s old BB&T building — I don’t remember if nesting was confirmed. But I did recall when the Peregrine Fund began their hacking program in the mid 70s, urban buildings were utilized. I discovered, noodling around on the Internet, urban sites were chosen for a few reasons — a ready supply of food (think pigeon, starling, house sparrow, etc.) no predators and historical data of wild peregrines nesting in urban settings.

Captive falcons were hacked in urban settings in the East, Midwest and West. According to the report I read, by 1993 three quarters of the 43 nesting pairs of peregrines in the Midwest were in urban settings. As peregrines continued to make a comeback, urban colonization also increased. Of 163 pairs in the Midwest in 2003, 40 percent were on buildings.

And the Windy City is a prime example. The Chicago Peregrine Program operated by the Field Museum monitors the Illinois’ peregrine population. There are around 29 known nesting territories in the state of Illinois, and 20 of those are in the city of Chicago. 

I looked at reports of nesting falcons in Chicago and found there is an active territory in Millennium Park, which is only a few blocks from where our hotel was. And, interestingly, on the same day I had a peregrine flyby (June 20), there was also a peregrine rescue just a few blocks from our hotel on Lake Shore drive.

According to a report in the Chicago tribune, a fledgling peregrine was discovered on a sidewalk along Lake Shore. The fledgling was rescued and got a police cruiser ride to Willowbrook Wildlife Center where it will be monitored.

So, remember, even if you’re stuck in the city — don’t forget to look up. Or if you’re stuck on the 26th floor, don’t forget to look out.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. His book, A Year From the Naturalist’s Corner, Vol. 1, is available at regional bookstores or by contacting Don at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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