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Banded together

Fuzzy, adorable, and thriving on the library roof

Ten years ago, a camera was placed in the artificial nest box atop the W. E. B. Du Bois Library, and the UMass love affair with our feathery friends, the Falco peregrinus, whose name means “wandering falcon,” soared to new heights—literally.

FACT: 50 chicks have hatched at UMass since 2003.

The peregrine falcon has a flourishing population today, and they can be seen all around the world. However, that wasn’t always the case. In the middle of the last century, peregrine falcons almost went extinct due to pesticides, including DDT, which were used throughout the United States until they were finally banned in 1972. The chemicals had a detrimental effect on the structure and thickness of falcon eggs, causing many birds to die before hatching. Thanks to conservation efforts in the area—including safe artificial nest boxes such as our own—and strong lobbying against the use of DDT nationwide, falcon numbers have steadily risen. Today, the peregrine falcon is no longer on the endangered species list.

2021 Fledglings get their bands

A person wearing jean jacket holds a fledgling falcon in their hands.

From March through August each year, our nest box hosts a family of peregrine falcons, and the next generation of these fascinating migratory creatures spend their first months of life with us—first as eggs, then hatchlings, and finally fledglings.

The library hosts a live video feed from the “Falcon Cam” and posts updates and photos on Twitter (@DuBoisFalcons) to their 2,500 followers so falcon fans can track their progress. It’s thrilling to watch as the eggs begin to hatch, to observe how precisely the falcon parents sit down on top of their chirping chicks to keep them warm, and to see the babies’ beaks crack open as they excitedly gulp down their first chunks of food.

FACT: The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird on Earth, diving at speeds up to 240 mph.

Still, the fledgling stage may perhaps be when these new falcons are at their cutest. Their fine fluffy baby down gets preened out as their sturdier adolescent feathers come in, compounding their adorable awkwardness. And they hop around the nest box on unsteady legs, spreading their wings and pretending to fly.

Banding Day 2021

This past year, the library also hosted the “FalConference,” an all-day virtual event where raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi, biologists from MassWildlife, and members of the falcon team shared presentations and offered live Q&A sessions. Over 600 people tuned in. Lauren Weiss, a member of the library’s falcon team, says, “It’s incredibly rewarding and fun to watch the falcons and engage with the community. We have so many fans on social media, and it’s always great to connect with them.”

FACT: Peregrine falcons inhabit every continent except Antarctica.

The biggest event of the year takes place during the molting stage and is known as “Banding Day.” The adolescent birds offer startled and confused looks that are downright hilarious as researchers gently reach in to grab them, put them in bags (so they don’t get as stressed out), and take their measurements. Researchers, including UMass staff and members of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, take notes on the birds’ development, then place loose aluminum anklets on the fledglings’ legs. “The color-coded bands placed on the birds’ legs track their gender and location of birth so that birders and ornithologists across the country can identify them and report where and when they see them,” explains Richard P. Nathhorst ’79, UMass research facilities manager.

FACT: Led by Tom French, UMass Amherst actually started its falcon conservation program back in 1988, long before the current nest box setup was created in 2012.

When the DuBois Library falcons do leave the nest to establish their own territories, tracking information from the bands allows researchers to continue following their journeys. We know from a recent sighting that one UMass falcon has traveled as far as New York City—living their best life outside a penthouse suite.

What’s in a name?

In 2021, the falcon team named fledglings for the first time. After a naming contest, with submissions from the falcon fans of the UMass community, the following names were chosen.

Banding 38/CD: “Kizzy,” recognizing the incredible work of @KizzyPhD, a.k.a Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist whose research focuses on novel coronaviruses.

Banding 39/CD: “Nut,” the ancient Egyptian sky goddess.

Banding 40/CD: “Uma,” as in Thurman, who grew up in Amherst.

Banding 86/CB: “Champ,” in honor of the men’s hockey team’s 2021 championship win!

Here are some of the favorite runners up:

Millennium (for the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s ship in Star Wars)

Emily (Dickinson, famous author and resident of Amherst)

Quarantina (submitted by a local elementary school class)

Want some perch merch? The library offers falcon-themed items for sale.