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Three Rockford peregrine chicks banded

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
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Recently named peregrine falcon chicks

Experts from Chicago’s Field Museum recently traveled to Rockford to band the three peregrine falcon chicks born on top of the former Rockford Register Star building.

John Longhenry is standing across the street with his camera looking up at the old news tower in the city's downtown, ready to catch a picture of the two peregrine falcons whose three chicks are about to be banded.

“And I've been down here on peregrine falcon watch for I think this is our fifth or sixth year," said Longhenry. "And we're looking forward to seeing the birds banded eventually, of course, have them fledge.”

Longhenry explains that it’s a relatively quick process. There are three chicks this year, and each needs to be banded, examined, and have their blood sampled. But in the meantime, he says the peregrine parents will get pretty noisy.

“The team's gonna go up and they'll band those birds," said Longhenry. "And meanwhile, what will happen is Louise the adult female and Brian the adult male will fly around screaming their heads off because their babies have been taken to be banded."

In 1973, the peregrine falcon was listed as an endangered species under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act. Due to substantial recovery efforts, the falcon was delisted from the state's endangered and threatened species registry. The peregrine falcon is still protected species under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was last updated in 2020.

Mary Hennen of the Chicago Peregrine Program and the Field Museum has spent the last 30 years monitoring the population of peregrine falcons in Illinois. She says the peregrine population is as strong as it ever was. "We have roughly around 30 territories within the state of Illinois," said Hennen. "And that's going from Evanston all the way down near St. Louis."

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
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Mary Hennen bands peregrine chick

To date, Hennen says she's banded over 700 falcons— including the three in Rockford. On the eighth floor of the news tower, Hennen is wearing a bicycle helmet, and to her right a volunteer waving a broom outside the window to distract the falcon parents. Hennen secures the chicks and fastens two bands on each chick.

“Not only do you have the bird in hand that you could study alien parasites, if you collect the little bugs on them," said Hennen. "We draw a little bit of blood when we do the banding. So we can look at genetics or we can look at blood borne parasites. But those bands are unique to the individual so we can learn things about longevity and dispersal."

Hennen adds that these bands can be pretty useful. It’s how we’re able to know that Louise, the female peregrine, is originally from Toronto, and that her mate, Brian, is from Wisconsin. And, it’s how we know that earlier this year, one of the pairs’ 2019 offspring, a female named Peaches, was found deceased in the Ohio State University Stadium.

“Now, raptor mortality is high -- 60% Don't make it through the first year," said Hennen. "So it's hopefully somewhere down the line that we do get that report and that they're fine and it's usually when they end up breeding and end up somewhere else."

Hennen lines up all three chicks, and thanks to a naming contest by the Sinnissippi Audubon Society and help from local grade schools, each chick gets a name. There are two females and one male. Their names are Hope, Jane, and Simon.

Once the chicks are back in their nest, Jennifer Kuroda with the Sinnissippi Audubon Society says the work isn’t over yet. For next several weeks, volunteers will be using a live video feed of the nest to be sure that if any peregrine chicks were to land in the street from an unsuccessful first flight, someone is there to make sure the chick remains safe and can make their way back up to the tower.

Kuroda adds that fledging begins around 40 days after hatching, so the trio are expected to leave the nest within the next several weeks.

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.