Evanston residents gear up for falcon hatching

Cat Zakrzewski

For Evanston resident Deborah Cohen, watching the peregrine falcons nesting at the Evanston Public Library almost amounts to a second job.

The Loyola University Chicago employee drops by the library before and after work to check on the falcons and constantly streams the Falcon Cam, a live feed of the nest maintained by the library. During the birds’ critical fledging period in the spring, she takes a vacation from her job and spends 14 hours a day watching the birds prepare for their first flights.

“We are so lucky to just be able to have them here in our own backyard,” Cohen said.

The peregrine falcon, once an endangered species due to DDT use, was reintroduced to the Midwest in the past 20 years through the Chicago Peregrine Program. Evanson’s peregrine falcons began making their annual appearance in 2004.

Since then, the birds have been a major attraction within the Evanston community, Cohen said.

“From the very beginning, there were a lot of people there,” she said.

Besides watching the birds, Cohen also shares her experience with other residents. She started by emailing about the birds with 20 to 25 other observers and has over time built an online falcon fan club that currently lists 114 members.

For some members, just watching the birds develop is intriguing. Rivian SiMonday, a retired special education teacher, said she never before had the opportunity to see a bird’s life cycle, from copulation to first flight.

“I feel like a grandmother to the babies,” Simon said. “I see them from the very beginning.”

Seeing the birds fly for the first time is worth the six-month wait, said Ted Glasoe, who began photographing the birds six years ago.

“It’s a little bit like watching ice melt,” Glasoe said. “Nothing seems to happen for a long time, and then there will be some activity.”

In addition to connecting people in the falcon watching group, the birds have become a major vehicle for the library, said Kay Poursine, a Northwestern employee who has watched the falcons since 2005. Every year schools and television stations come to see the fledglings banded by members of the Chicago Peregrine Program, which monitors the peregrine population and submits information to the Midwest falcon database.

Cohen, who shares her observations with the program, said the nest’s location at EPL is ideal for bird-watchers. She is trying to see the tag on the male falcon’s leg from the street so that she can identify him to the Chicago Peregrine Program, she said. There are currently four eggs in the falcon nest that will likely hatch next month.

“To be able to see them without having to make a journey or an excursion is just a gift,” Cohen said.

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