The three Peregrine Falcon chicks were huddled together in the nest site waiting for their parents to deliver a meal when we arrived on the 11th floor of the Macomb County Building in Mount Clemens.
The room on the 11th floor was full of excited chatter. Anticipation was in the air. Staff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Macomb County and the Detroit Zoo, waited alongside the media and guests to begin. It’s a special day for these young Peregrine Falcon chicks — it’s banding day!
The date is Monday, June 1, 2015 and the chicks are now 24 days old. Darker juvenile feathers can be seen poking through their fluffy downy white feathers. Their feet and their legs are just about the same size as their parents. It’s a perfect time to outfit these young falcons with their bands.
Days like this are a very exciting part of my job. My name is Christine Becher and I monitor Peregrine Falcons in southeast Michigan. 2015 is my sixth season of monitoring this state endangered species for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The Macomb County Building is just one of the 14 sites that I monitor in southeast Michigan, and one of two that I monitor in Macomb County; the other site being the new GM Building located at 30400 Van Dyke Avenue in Warren.
These chicks, hatched on May 9, are the offspring of Hathor and Nick, longtime residents of the Macomb County Building. Hathor hatched at the Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning in 2003 and arrived at the Macomb County Building site in 2005. Nick arrived in 2008, having hatched at the Whittier Hotel in Detroit in 2006. The pair has hatched 24 offspring since 2008.
For the past three years, Hathor and Nick have chosen the window well on the southeast corner of the 11th floor to raise their young. Hathor laid five eggs this nesting season. Only three of these eggs hatched. This is not uncommon. Since Hathor arrived in 2005, she has laid a total of 52 eggs with two mates and hatched 25 offspring.
All eyes were on the banding team as the three young chicks were retrieved from the window well by DNR Wildlife Biologist Terry McFadden and gently placed in a partitioned cardboard box and brought over to the worktable.
Each chick had its turn as Holly Vaughn, wildlife outreach technician for the DNR gently held them while Ann Duncan, chief veterinarian from the Detroit Zoo evaluated their health and drew blood. It was then time to outfit the youngsters with two bands.
As Holly continued to hold each bird individually, Terry placed an aluminum U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band with an official tracking number on the chick’s right leg and a red and black color band with numbers and/or letters on their left leg. Both bands will be used to identify the birds after they leave the nest. The red and black color band can be read from a relatively long distance with the aid of a spotting scope.
After each falcon had its health inspection and bands applied, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel announced the names he had chosen for them. Mark has been naming the offspring at these bandings since 2011, and it is obvious to all watching that he gives great thought and takes much pride in giving names to these young falcons.
The first chick was given the name Peace, because as Mark said more peace is needed for many people, both personally, and worldwide. Peace quietly listened, without making a sound. After a few healthy squawks, the second falcon was given the name Aggie, for Macomb County’s rich agricultural heritage.
Lastly, the third and most vocal chick, COMTEC II, was named after COMTEC, one of last year’s falcon chicks that died after flying into the neighboring Macomb County Administration Building during one of her first flights. COMTEC is the name of Macomb County’s new communications center that houses dispatch, emergency services, roads and information technology.
After all the formalities were finished and many pictures were taken, the chicks were returned to the window well and the watchful eyes of their parents.
Once on the brink of extinction due to pesticide use, Peregrine Falcons have recovered through extensive reintroduction efforts. Michigan began reintroducing Peregrines to the Detroit area in 1987. Peregrine Falcons are protected federally under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In Michigan, they remain listed as an endangered species under state law.
From the once very rare resource that Peregrine Falcons were, to the much more secure presence today, the comeback has been amazing. It could not have happened without many people working together.
Christine K. Becher is the Southeast Michigan Peregrine Falcon nesting coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.