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MSU, DNR partner to band peregrine falcons for last time

For the third year in a row, researchers from Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources partnered to place unique identification bands on peregrine falcon chicks to monitor their movements and to help the species recover.

While some might be saddened to learn that this year’s banding ceremony is likely the final one between MSU and the DNR, it’s for a good reason — the project has been a success, and the species status has been reduced from a state endangered species to a state threatened species.

The MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club helped secure a nestbox on top of Spartan Stadium in 2022 to encourage reproduction, when the banding first began. Three falcon chicks were banded this year, Reggie, Acorn and Franklin, marking a total of 10 chicks in the three years. Spartan Stadium has served as one of 30 nesting locations across the state, providing falcons a space to adapt to human environments and thrive.

Jim Schneider is a senior specialist and undergraduate program coordinator in MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources who has been involved with the banding project.

Since the early 2000s, peregrine falcons have been sighted around campus. Nest boxes were previously set up at the old campus power plant and Hubbard Hall but, unfortunately, the peregrines never used the boxes in either location, according to Schneider.

“Eventually we just started “listening” to the birds. They’d been frequenting the south end of Spartan Stadium for several years. We finally just said, if that’s where they prefer, let’s try and make it happen,” Schneider said. “The MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club approached the Spartan Stadium facilities staff with their idea, which they enthusiastically supported, and the rest is history, ten peregrine chicks later.”

The process involved researchers, wearing hard hats and holding umbrellas for protection, first carefully removing the falcon chicks from their nest on the top of the stadium. Because falcons will defend against anyone who invades their nest, it is paramount the team work swiftly and safely. Then, when the chicks were settled inside, the team was able to attach the bands quickly, with some squirming from the chicks. They were then returned to their nest.

Since the banding started in 2022, it has become not just about the falcons, but the East Lansing community, engaging local schools and residents alike.

Outdoor portrait of Jenn Owen
Jenn Owen

For those who have followed the falcon chicks from past years, they are doing well. 2023’s Swooper had to be relocated, as the young falcon was living near the Willow Run Airport, and Pickles, who was injured by a car, resides at the Howell Nature Center. Learn more about the past three clutches with the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club’s falcon box timelines.As the falcons are now less threatened, this banding is the last one planned at Spartan Stadium in partnership with the DNR. However, the Fisheries and Wildlife Club is working with EEB core faculty member Jennifer Owen, associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to continue banding in the future with permits pending.

Banding, which allows researchers to track migration patterns and the dispersal of the species, first started when peregrines were reintroduced in Michigan from 1986 through 1992. Since then, every falcon chick has been a wild-produced bird. More information about falcon migration and tracking is available from MSU Extension.

To stay updated the MSU falcon chicks, information will be posted here and consider supporting the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club.

Read the full story in MSU Today.