West Michigan peregrine falcons call downtown buildings home

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Monday, a peregrine falcon paid a visit to FOX 17's River House Tower Cam. Once a rare bird to east of the Mississippi River, the peregrine falcon is making a strong comeback.

The peregrine falcon can be found worldwide and anywhere with cliffs. But they've found a home among Michigan's rolling hills and flat land, perched up high in the middle of our cities.

“Typically in urban settings like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, they’ll pick a taller building with some ledges that they can roost on," says Mark Mills, a biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources explains,

Business owners aren't lining up to become landlords for the carnivorous birds, because the falcons are messy eaters. “The falcons eat birds. They drop wings and things like that," says Mills.

Housing and monitoring the falcons is important because these birds came close to extinction less than 50 years ago.

Luckily, the falcons have found a friend in the Fifth Third Bank, who joined the Kalamazoo Audubon Society and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in building a nesting box on top of their building in downtown Kalamazoo.
“At one point in the 1960’s they could not find a Peregrine falcon East of the Mississippi," says Mills.

For a time, DDT, a pesticide common in the 40s, 50s and 60s, was wreaking havoc on the peregrine falcon population. “That DDT would track through the food chain into the falcons," explains Mills, "and the result of that, bodies were contaminated with that chemical, and their egg shells would be really thin and brittle. When they went to lay on the eggs, they’d crack.”

Through years of rehabilitation, researchers estimate that there are over 300 nesting pairs in the eastern U.S. Mills says tracking the raptors is just as important now as it was when the species was struggling.

“The important thing is, we’ve put a lot of effort into recovering the species, and it doesn't cost that much more to do a little effort into tracking them" says Mills. "When you track them, you can really get a better idea about their population size and their distribution.”

The public likes to watch these birds too, because peregrine falcons put on high speed aerial shows. They hunt only in the sky, tucking in their wings and dive-bombing their prey. Often the falcons reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, and they usually eat birds that people consider nuisance birds.

“We have a lot of resident bird species like pigeons, starlings, and English sparrows, all three of which are introduced species." says Mills, "so we’re not too sad to see their populations being controlled by a top predator like a peregrine falcon.”

In Kalamazoo, people have been watching Rebecca the falcon and her mate Kewpee on the Kalamazoo Falcons website nest cam. The pair is currently tending four eggs, which are expected to hatch in May.

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