UMass Falcon chick
University News

Banding Day 2023: ‘Huge, Healthy’ Falcon Chicks Sporting New Hardware

This year’s brood of UMass Amherst peregrine falcon chicks is sporting some new hardware, as the one female and two male chicks were fitted with their regional markers and federal registry leg bands on Wednesday, May 24. The tiny bands, coded by color and location, and permanently affixed to their legs, will allow wildlife officials to track the falcons’ whereabouts and histories as they leave the nest and go out on their own.

The chicks received their markers approximately three-and-a-half weeks after they hatched; a fourth egg was nonviable. The brood’s parents are the same couple that hatched four chicks on campus last year. The mother hails from a Verizon tower in Brockton; the father originated from the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River between Northampton and Hadley.

2023 Falcon chick
One of the 2023 falcon chicks gets its ID band

For the second consecutive year, the university’s resident rooftop raptors decided to nest in their “timeshare” on Thompson Hall. The nest box was installed over three decades ago but remained vacant until 2022, when the falcons’ traditional nest box on the W. E. B. Du Bois Library was being renovated. The library hosted a peregrine falcon nest every year from 2003 through 2021.

The three chicks were removed from their nest box as their father loudly protested from above. They were gently carried in cloth bags to the 10th floor lounge for examination and banding, before being safely returned to their parents.

“They’re huge, they’re healthy, they’re giant fluff balls and we’re very excited,” said Lauren Weiss, the library’s associate editor of digital content and a member of the university’s falcon team.

The chicks are expected to start venturing away from the nest around mid-June and leave permanently around the end of summer or early fall. From there, they will establish their own territories.

Peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are the fastest bird on Earth, capable of dive speeds in excess of 240 mph. An estimated 43 nesting pairs of peregrines resided in Massachusetts last year, fledging at least 68 chicks.

It is a far cry from a half century ago, when the peregrine falcon population was decimated by the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused the raptors to produce nonviable eggs with shells that were too thin. The peregrine falcon was listed as endangered in 1969. Restoration efforts began in 1972, coinciding with a ban on the use of DDT in the U.S.

Attempts to release captive-bred chicks in Massachusetts failed to yield results in the 1970s. The following decade, peregrine restoration became the first project of the newly established MassWildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program, leading to the first modern Massachusetts peregrine nest in 1987. A year later, The Peregrine Fund sent five chicks to UMass Amherst. Two graduate students raised the chicks with minimal human contact on the 13th floor of the Lincoln Campus Center, thus beginning the university’s important role in restoring the species. To date, more than 50 chicks have been raised on campus.

Another chick from the 2023 brood gets banded
Another chick from the 2023 brood gets banded

“It’s a true conservation success story,” says MassWildlife’s David Paulson, who was the lead falcon wrangler at Wednesday’s banding.

Today, viewers can track the UMass falcons’ development with a live webcam, dubbed #NESTFLIX, on Twitter at @DuBoisFalcons and on Instagram @duboisfalcons.

For the third consecutive year, the Du Bois Falcons team is seeking the public’s help in naming the chicks. Suggestions can be submitted online through Monday, May 29. Top-rated suggestions will then be voted on by the campus community from Tuesday, May 30 through Thursday, June 1. Winning names will be announced on Friday, June 2.

Last year, social media users named three male chicks: Han Solo, Chewbacca "Chewie" and Dewey Duck. To recognize their 2022 Atlantic 10 championship, members of the UMass women’s basketball team were given the honor of naming the brood’s lone female: June.

UMass Amherst Libraries have also developed a Common Core pre-K-12 curriculum on peregrine falcons available to all educators.