Falcon chicks meet their namesakes at banding
Bob and Cheryl flap their wings on University Hall’s 28th floor ledge, getting ready to fly. But the Easters have already left the nest.
The two peregrine falcon chicks born on a 28th-floor ledge of University Hall this spring have been named for newly retired University of Illinois President Bob Easter and his wife, Cheryl. The honor was bestowed to recognize Easter’s 40 years of service to the university.
“We hope that this way, they’ll soar over our campus, keep watching over us, keep helping us and come back year after year as the falcons do,” said Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
The chicks were born to Nitz and Mouse, now in their third year of nesting at University Hall. The pair had four eggs, but only two hatched.
The Easters got the chance to hold the chicks June 5 when the birds were brought inside for banding and blood tests by Field Museum peregrine falcon experts.
“We thought it would be special to come out here, watch the banding and get to know Bob and Cheryl,” Bob Easter said.
“It was really cool to get to hold a wild animal,” said Cheryl Easter, already a falcon fan from watching them online.
“It was also helpful to have gloves on,” Bob Easter said with a laugh.
Peregrine falcons have called UH home for over 30 years. The falcons were classified as endangered in Illinois in 1973. Naturalists chose University Hall as a release site to reintroduce the species to the Midwest in 1986.
The falcons, taken off the federal threatened and endangered species list in 1999, were just removed from the Illinois list, said Mary Hennen, director of the Chicago Peregrine Program and collections assistant in the Field Museum’s bird division.
“Thirty years of work towards that is a relatively quick turnover,” she said.
Hennen and colleague Josh Engel wait 22 to 24 days after the chicks hatch before collecting them from the ledge. Small metal cuffs are placed around the chicks’ legs to help researchers identify the birds after they leave the nest for their life in the skies.
Hennen says the naming is an exciting part of the procedure. “When you’re naming them, you’re thanking people,” says Hennen. “It’s creating a link.”
Easter’s retirement gift from UIC also included a photo of last year’s falcons. UIS gave him a book about Abraham Lincoln; the Urbana-Champaign campus gift was a piece of marble with an engraved quotation from the university’s founding president.
Although they’re not quite ready to soar, the falcon chicks are flapping their wings at the nest as their flight feathers start to grow in. When they’re about 40 days old, the chicks will fly for the first time. They’ll leave the nest around the beginning of fall semester.
“The University of Illinois at Chicago is at a point, in some sense, where it’s like the falcons,” Easter said. “It’s ready to set out and explore the world, to have its own life.”