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Peregrine falcons nest on Medical Campus

Fledglings can be seen honing their flight skills above the rooftops

by Elizabethe Holland DurandoJune 12, 2017

Huy Mach

For several years, peregrine falcons have nested on the Washington University Medical Campus. The four newest falcons are believed to have hatched April 23 and have since flown the coop, so to speak.

More than a decade ago, after a female falcon opted to build a nest on the ledge of a medical school building, university employees gave the spot the penthouse treatment of sorts — building a safer, roomier, box into an attic crawl space, in hopes the falcons might come back again. The birds apparently loved it, because falcons have nested in the same spot annually ever since.

Experts from the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Mo., attempt to band the fledglings every year, before they’re able to fly. Banding them allows researchers to learn more about the species and identify the birds once they’ve gone out into the world. Large numbers and lettering on the bands allow them to be identified at far distances with binoculars.

In fact, the current mother’s identification band indicates she has nested at the Medical Campus site for at least the past three years, according to Jeffrey Meshach, deputy director of the World Bird Sanctuary —  and that she was banded as a chick in 2008 on a Mayo Clinic building in Rochester, Minn. (Clearly, she appreciates Washington University for her obstetrics care.) Both parents appear to have a thing for higher education, as the father’s band indicates he was banded as a chick in 2012 at an Indiana State University administration building in Terre Haute, Ind.

The Medical Campus’ newest chicks, however, are not banded. When Meshach sneaked into the crawl space to retrieve them, he quickly realized they were too mobile and, therefore, at risk of falling from the nesting area’s ledge during the grab-and-band procedure.

The four fledglings have since left the nest but remain close to the Medical Campus, where they can be spotted resting and learning the intricacies of flight. But like their parents, they could end up living several states away. As the fastest members of the animal kingdom — peregrine falcons can fly up to about 200 mph — they don’t seem to mind wandering far from home.

Huy uses visual storytelling in his coverage of medical education, patient care, and research. He was part of a team of photographers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2015. He has a bachelor's degree in photojournalism from Western Kentucky University.