Observing science through the lens of the UIC FalconCam

Teachers and fourth-grade students from Galileo Scholastic Academy of Math and Science visited UIC recently to watch science in action after observing falcons nesting atop a University Hall ledge through the FalconCam this spring for a class project.

They joined UIC administrators, faculty, staff and students gathered in University Hall June 16 for the planned banding of three peregrine falcon chicks. However, due to safety precautions, the chicks could not be banded this year, said Mary Hennen, director of the Chicago Peregrine Program and collections assistant in the Field Museum’s bird division.

For decades, UIC’s 28-story University Hall has been home to a peregrine falcon families nesting on its ledges. Hennen visits UIC each year to take blood samples and band the new brood of peregrine chicks, which helps experts identify the birds and track their dispersal and longevity. During her visit this year, one of the chicks was positioned too close to the edge of the ledge, which posed a safety risk.

“The way you access that ledge, we only have one window we can go out, and unfortunately it’s right in front of where one chick decided to go and sit on the outer ledge,” Hennen said. “Our concern is that if I start to go out, his instinct is to back away, and then he’s off the ledge. And then that’s it, because they have no flight feathers.

“Banding is a luxury. We’d love to do it if we can do it. But it’s not worth risking the life of one of them.”

Still, students and teachers from Galileo Scholastic Academy of Math and Science were happy to watch the birds through the windows after observing them over the livestream.

“We are so grateful for this opportunity,” said teacher Barbara Simmons. “It’s a really good way to bring nature into the classroom; let them see nature, literally right outside the window, and see the babies grow and see how they interact with their environment.”

The fourth-grade students enjoyed the experience, too.

“We got to see the mom bring the babies a dead bird to eat,” Giovanni Figueroa said.

“I like watching the mom surround the babies out there on the ledge because it shows the mom is protecting the babies,” Nelsen Burandt added.

Hennen has banded more than 700 falcons in 34 years, including 25 this year. Although UIC’s brood wasn’t among those banded, it’s still a successful nesting season, she said.

“The whole purpose is to have a self-sustaining breeding population,” Hennen said. “And that’s what we want and that’s what’s going on. So it’s still a perfectly wonderful, great fledgling season.”

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