Three falcon chicks hatch at Statesman Towers

May 14, 2012

Move over crows. A different bird is making news in Terre Haute this spring and biologists are celebrating.

Three peregrine falcon chicks have hatched in a nest perched high on the Scott College of Business Building at Indiana State University's Statesman Towers complex.

Indiana State biology Professor Steven Lima and some of his students have been watching the nest for weeks and discovered the chicks had hatched when they checked it on Friday.

It's the latest chapter in a remarkable turnaround for a bird of prey that had disappeared from much of North America by the middle of the 20th century. Less than 50 years ago, no nests were known to exist east of the Mississippi River and the population of the bird in the western U.S. had declined by 90 percent from its perceived peak, likely a of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, biologists say.

The peregrine falcon was re-introduced in Indiana about 20 years ago in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville. The three chicks born at ISU may be the first to hatch in the Wabash Valley in 50 or 60 years, Lima said.

The chicks were born to a pair of falcons that first arrived at Indiana State about two years ago. A single female falcon named Helga had been a regular winter fixture on campus for about 12 years beginning in 1998 but Helga hasn't been seen in recent years. Biologists don't know whether she succumbed to old age or was simply forced-out when the new falcons arrived.

The nest on the Indiana State campus is among 16 known to exist round the state this spring, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. That falcons would make their home on the 15-story building that is part of ISU's Statesman Towers is not surprising. They generally nest on tall buildings, towers or cliffs.

Such locations allow falcons to keep a constant eye out for their next meal, which often consists of smaller birds and other animals.

To help with continued monitoring of the falcon population, a non-game biologist from the Indiana DNR plans to band the new chicks later this month. Neither the chicks nor their parents have names, but the adult female in the nest wears a band indicating she was hatched and raised by wild parents on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

While the peregrine falcon is no longer an endangered species, it is considered a protected species under the federal endangered species program - and Lima and his students are very protective of the ISU birds, especially during the early stages of egg incubation.

"The chicks appear to be healthy and are growing rapidly," Lima said. "They should now have a pretty good chance of making it to adulthood."

But birdwatchers should still keep their distance.

"Access to the nest site is strictly limited," he said. "The parent falcons are now very aggressive towards any animal close to the nest, and thus nobody should approach the nest for further photographs."

While celebrating the continued rebound of the peregrine falcon population, Lima said local residents needn't fear that falcons may one day be as plentiful as the crows who invade the city by the tens of thousands each fall. In fact, once the newly hatched chicks are ready to leave the nest, they may need to settle elsewhere.

A city the size of Terre Haute can likely support only one pair of falcons, he said.

Photo:http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/Birds-in-Nest/i-M39F7Xx/0/L/PEFA-Chicks-1-May-11-2012-L.jpg - Peregrine falcon chicks in a nest on the Scott College of Business Building at Indiana State University. (ISU/Jennie Carr, Ph.D. student, biology)

Contact: Steven Lima, professor of biology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3677 or steven.lima@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu