Peregrine falcons hatch in Evanston Public Library’s rooftop nest

Susan Du

The newest generation of peregrine falcons that hatched in Evanston Public Library’s rooftop nest will be named and banded Tuesday.

Eight generations of peregrines have nested at EPL, 1703 Orrington Ave., laying three or four eggs each year from which at least one baby falcon has always fledged successfully. Though the nest cannot be accessed from inside or outside the library, a webcam monitors the birds constantly.

EPL’s annual banding ceremony draws a regular turnout of about 75 Evanston residents. In recent years, the library’s falcons have also inspired a Facebook page, which is stocked with pictures and “liked” by 420 people.

Peregrine falcons are known for being the fastest birds in the world, having been recorded in flight at more than 180 mph. They also nearly died out in the mid-20th century because pesticides such as DDT weakened their eggshells. Peregrines were taken off the federal endangered species list in 1999 as the result of intensive conservation efforts.

However, the birds remain on the Illinois threatened species list today. Though peregrines have repopulated gradually due to public interest and care, they are still considered regionally rare.

Mary Hennen, collections assistant for the bird division at the Field Museum, describes her job as being a liaison for birds to the public. She is involved with educating communities about peregrines’ needs, letting building managers know if the birds decide to nest on their property and working with local bird watch groups to monitor their movements.

“The whole goal is to have the birds be a self-sustaining population,” Hennen said. “It’s wonderful that they’re coming back.”

The Evanston Peregrine Falcon Watch often assists Hennen with observing the fledglings as they attempt flying for the first time. Deborah Cohen, who started watching EPL’s falcons in 2004, founded the group after she discussed the birds’ safety with other Evanston residents who expressed interest in monitoring them.

“It’s not uncommon for (fledglings) to end up on the ground after their first flight because their flight muscles aren’t entirely developed,” Cohen said. “In Evanston, it’s particularly challenging because the nest isn’t that far from the street, and there aren’t many safe rooftops that are lower. Add human hazard to not being able to hunt, and it’s really challenging for them.”

Cohen takes several days off work every year for EPL’s falcons. When they attempt to fly, they may get stranded in parking garages and on top of stores. They may be too tired to fly again for hours afterward. If the falcons are in any danger, the Evanston Peregrine Falcon Watch will contact Hennen for her advice on how to return them to the nest.

Kathleen Lanigan, a librarian at EPL, said the falcons are a yearly attraction at EPL.

“We all learned a lot about the falcons we didn’t know before,” Lanigan said. “In previous years, people have asked questions about falcons, and we have to look it up. Anytime you learn something new it’s fun. We enjoy it.”

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