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5/2/2012 11:32:00 AM
On the wing: Indiana State hosting rare birds
Business meets aviation: One of two peregrine falcons soars over the College of Business building on the Indiana State University campus Tuesday. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
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Business meets aviation: One of two peregrine falcons soars over the College of Business building on the Indiana State University campus Tuesday. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
At a glance
There are 16 known nesting sites for peregrine falcons in Indiana. That’s the most in any year since efforts to reintroduce the bird to the Hoosier state began 20 years ago.
More than 50 peregrine eggs have been recorded this year and 16 have hatched so far.
The nesting sites in Indiana include:
• Terre Haute, Indiana State University campus
• East Chicago, two sites
• Gary, two sites
• Indianapolis, two sites
• Michigan City
• Madison
• New Albany
• Petersburg
• Porter, two sites
• South Bend
• Wheatfield
• Whiting
Source: Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Falcon cams

Live Internet web cameras are set up to view peregrine falcon nests Fort Wayne, South Bend and Indianapolis. They can be seen at
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Arthur Foulkes, Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ashley Layman, special assistant to the dean, looked up from her desk high on the 11th floor of the Scott College of Business at Indiana State University. She saw an odd sight: A bird was on the high ledge outside her window, hunkered behind a wide, concrete pillar. It was as if it was hiding from something.

In a moment, it was clear why. A large bird of prey known as a peregrine falcon swooped past Layman’s window, clearly searching for the smaller fowl.

After a few minutes, the smaller bird tried to escape by flying rapidly to the south, Layman recalled. But the falcon saw it and was quickly in hot pursuit.

“The falcon was right behind him,” Layman recalled, unsure how the chase ended. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

If the peregrine falcon caught and killed the smaller bird, it would not be unusual. That’s how peregrine falcons survive, by eating smaller birds, said Steve Lima, professor of biology at ISU.

“That’s all they eat,” Lima said. “It’s bad news for pigeons. There used to be a lot of pigeons on campus and there aren’t any more.”

But bad news for pigeons is great news for bird conservationists and anyone concerned that the peregrine falcon until recently was nearly extinct. Now, thanks to a reintroduction effort launched more than 20 years ago, multiple nesting sites are reported in Indiana alone.

ISU is home to a pair – male and female – of peregrines and a nest containing three eggs, which could hatch this week. If they do, it may be the first time in 50 or 60 years that peregrine eggs have hatched in this part of Indiana, Lima said.

“It’s further evidence that the reintroduction program started a couple of decades ago has worked,” he said.

The people working in the upper floors of the Scott College of Business have all the evidence they need. It’s not unusual to find the remains of the peregrines’ victims left on window ledges or on the ground near the Statesmen Towers, they said. Sometimes the falcons even perch outside a high office window and curiously peer inside.

“It screams as it flies by,” said Bill Fairbanks, fire safety specialist for ISU whose office is on the 12th floor of the Scott College of Business. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Peregrine falcons, which can exceed speeds of more than 200 mph, often live on tall buildings, such as those found at ISU, Lima said, adding that the birds also like living in cities. The earliest efforts to reintroduce peregrines east of the Mississippi River in the 1970s had limited success because the birds were released in the wild and had a hard time coping with large owls, a natural predator, he said. Cities have very few large owls, so the falcons can nest and survive relatively undisturbed.

The two peregrine falcons now calling ISU home are not the first of their species to live on the campus. In 1998, Helga, another peregrine, would stay at ISU during the winter months. That bird probably left when the two new ones arrived, Lima said, adding that a city the size of Terre Haute can probably only support a single pair of peregrines at a time.

The two new birds do not have names. Because of a tag she wears, it is known that the female was born on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. She made her way to Terre Haute about two years ago with an older male mate, Lima said.

“She’s been a university bird apparently all her life,” he said.

About 50 years ago, peregrine falcons were nearly wiped out by habitat loss and the use of pesticides such as DDT, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. By 1965, there were no peregrine nests east of the Mississippi River and western populations were reduced by 90 percent. Starting in the 1970s, efforts were launched at Cornell University to save and reintroduce the species, which is no longer considered endangered but remains protected.

“We just have to make sure no one bugs them for a while,” Lima said of the peregrines at ISU. It’s very important that their nest not be disturbed while the eggs are inside, he said.

If the eggs hatch, the chicks may need a month or two before they can fly, Lima said. In the meantime, mom and dad will bring them food. “That means lots of dead birds,” he said.

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