From The VN Archives: Titan of the tower



Have you ever grudgingly been around campus early in the morning for class and heard screeching noises coming from the bell tower? If so, you are hearing the pair of peregrine falcons who make their home inside the bell tower.

 Peregrine falcons are among the world's most common birds of prey, living on all continents, except Antarctica. They thrive near coastlines where shorebirds are common, but they can be found everywhere from tundra to deserts.

Peregrines are known to live on bridges and skyscrapers in major cities.

"Peregrines nest on cliffs and they assume that skyscrapers or, in this case, the bell tower is a cliff," said chemistry Prof. Mary Lou Caspers, who has been observing the birds for about six years.

"Last summer, four chicks were fledged," she said. "There are three females, Iggy, Catie and Reno, and one male, Mac. There is also Titan, the first peregrine that we tagged three years

Titan was found on the ground as a chick three years ago and Caspers said that he was kept in captivity for a few weeks before being freed.

"If a peregrine chick falls out of the nest, it often soars down, but is not strong enough to fly back up to the tower," said Caspers. "The parents do not feed it if it is on the

 Born in the spring, chicks are often evicted from the nest in August or September, Caspers said.

"Titan was the first peregrine to be tagged and he was fed in captivity for a few weeks before being freed to fly back up to the bell tower," she said.

Caspers' interest in peregrines started when she and a colleague noticed a peregrine chick sitting on the top of the Life Sciences building. At the time, they didn't know that it was a peregrine.

"We thought that it was a small hawk," said Caspers. "Another professor, who was an avid bird watcher, brought in one of their bird books and we found out that the chick was a peregrine. At the time, the peregrine was endangered in Michigan, so we immediately called the Department of Natural Resources and they sent someone out to see the chick, and sure enough it was a

The peregrines were endangered due to DDT, a chemical that reduced that calcium in their egg shells, making the eggs very fragile.

The use of DDT is now prohibited due to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the peregrine was removed from the endangered species act in 1999.

There have been about 25 chicks that have fledged on the campus since 2005, as well as two undocumented peregrines in 2004.

This summer, scaffolding for construction on the Chemistry Building allowed the perfect opportunity for an excursion up to the bell tower to see how many chicks there were and to tag them.

"The construction workers and some workers from the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division went up and found that there were four chicks," said Caspers. "The four were then tagged. When those chicks are big enough, they will leave the bell tower and find a mate for themselves. Some may return and others may not. They can fly pretty

According to Caspers, the original peregrines stay at the tower.

"They have one mate for life," she said.

The presence of the peregrines is evident not just in the air, but on the ground, too, where the carcasses of their prey have been found.

"There is no pattern to when they eat," said Caspers. "They just eat when they are hungry. They eat seagulls, pigeons and other small birds. They catch their prey midair in a dive at up to 150 miles per hour. Since there are a lot of pigeons and seagulls around campus, they will be around for a long

Carcasses aside, Caspers said that she thoroughly enjoys watching the peregrines.

"During the summer term, some students approached me regarding the peregrines because they were flying all around campus screeching," said Caspers. "The peregrine screech is very unique; it sounds like scratching your nails against a

Local Audubon Society has brought equipment to campus to watch the birds, and Caspers and others have gotten to use it, as well.

"It has been a lot of fun so far watching them," she said, "and I can't wait to see how many new peregrines next spring