Meet the PerrysBy Katie Stacey; photos by Luke Massey
Look who just moved in!
Imagine coming home to the 28th floor of a tall building and finding the creature above perched on your balcony railing. Well, that’s exactly what happened to one lucky guy named Dacey, who lives in Chicago.
The creature was a peregrine (PAIR-uh-grin) falcon. And would you believe it, a second one turned up, too! The pair liked the balcony so much that they started a family in one of Dacey’s empty flower boxes.
Dacey named the birds Steve and Linda Perry, after the lead singers in two of his favorite rock bands.
When the Perry peregrines first appeared, many people in the building complained that they didn’t want them there. Raising baby peregrines can be a dirty job: There’s a lot of bird poop, and meal leftovers make a big mess. Plus, the parents can be fierce when they’re protecting their nest. But Dacey explained that these falcons were protected by law. So Linda and Steve were allowed to stay.
Dinner Is Served
Peregrines usually like to nest on cliff ledges. But these birds have adapted well to city life, too. Cities offer lots of prey—and high cliff-like places (such as Dacey’s balcony) to nest on and hunt from.
Steve and Linda always hunted in flight, and their favorite prey was pigeons. But they also caught other birds—especially during spring migration, when many flocks fly through Chicago on their way north. And sometimes they would even bring home a bat!
Steve did most of the hunting, and he was kept very busy once the pair’s four eggs hatched. Meanwhile, Linda protected the young chicks from bad weather or any possible trouble.
Growing Up Peregrine
For the first couple of weeks, the chicks were helpless and covered in white, fluffy feathers. Linda kept them warm and fed them tiny bits of food.
After about a month, the chicks began sprouting flight feathers. They were fed bigger chunks of food and started moving around in their flower box, flapping their little wings. It was about this time when scientists from the Field Museum’s Chicago Peregrine Program came to visit. They checked on the chicks and put different-colored bands on their legs. After the birds have grown up and moved away, scientists will still be able to ID them by the bands, no matter where they go.
After a couple more weeks, there was a lot more wing flapping. Brown feathers had replaced the fuzzy down. The Perry chicks could tear meat by themselves. And they weighed 20 times more than when they first hatched. They were ready to take their first flights!
Peregrine falcons are masters of the sky. It’s their stoop (downward dive) that gives them their reputation as the world’s fastest animals. When they fold their wings and plunge after prey, they can reach speeds of more than 200 miles per hour! But first they learn some flight skills from their parents.
One amazing action is the food pass! Here’s how the Perrys did it: Steve would fly in, calling loudly, with dinner gripped in his talons (claws). Linda would fly over to meet him and reach out with her talons. They’d perform a handover of the food in mid-air! Once the chicks began flying, they took part in food passes, too. Sometimes they chased each other around, playing tag in the sky. Play like this taught them skills they would need to hunt for themselves.
Back from the Brink
Peregrine falcons like the Perrys weren’t always so lucky. In fact, they had become endangered by the mid-1900s. That’s mostly because DDT, a pesticide used back then, got into the peregrines’ food and then their bodies. This chemical caused them to lay eggs with thin shells that would break under the adults’ weight. Finally, DDT was banned. And many groups, such as the Chicago Peregrine Program, worked hard to help the birds recover. Big cities have helped, too, with their cliff-like building ledges available for nesting and plenty of prey to eat.
Thanks to conservationists and to welcoming neighbors like Dacey, the Perrys and other peregrines get a peaceful home—right alongside the people of Chicago!
Rangers: We thank Mary Hennen, Director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, for her help with this story. To learn more about Chicago peregrines, write to her at Chicago Peregrine Program; The Field Museum; 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.; Chicago, IL 60605. —R.R.