Peregrine Falcons at St. Olaf

In 2001 we had the opportunity to acquire 3 peregrine falcon chicks to raise (hack) and release in hopes that they, or other peregrines, would end up nesting here on campus.  Peregrines have adapted well to living in cities and nesting on tall building ledges that act as cliff ledges – their natural nesting habitat.  “Hacking” is the process of raising peregrine chicks in a Hack box, usually from a high tower or building to which they will adapt as they grow to maturity and fly.  A student naming contest named them Odin, Thor and Loki after the 3 Norsk Gods of mythology. Adam Lohmeyer, St. Olaf student, conducted independent research on the peregrines over the summer under the direction of Gene Bakko, Biology Dept.

hack box

At the start we banded the birds, drew blood samples for future DNA identification, and marked them with bright orange spots or stripes for visual ID after release while they were still around campus their first summer.

Bud working odin

Greg Menning, St. Olaf carpenter, built our hack box according to specifications that included dimensions of about 4’x6’x4’ high which had one side with bars that provided an open view.  It also had a small side door to allow us to get in to clean, a side peep hole to check on them without disturbing them, and a drop hatch in the top through which we fed them daily with small dead quail (purchased from a supplier of quail exclusively for falconers).  The hack box was placed on the roof of Larson Dorm along with a live video cam feed and a recording camera.  Greg also built our nest box which hangs over the north side of Larson Dorm today.

adam feeding quail larson close up

Peregrine falcons are the fastest organism on planet Earth.  They prey mainly on birds in the air by hitting them at high speeds in a dive up to 240 mph.  They do not catch the birds in air but hit them hard enough to kill them or severely injure them so they fall to the ground where the peregrine feeds on them – or brings them to the nest for the young.  Young peregrines must learn excellent flying skills early and have been observed practicing on catching everything from butterflies to great blue herons.  Their prey are usually crow size or smaller with robin sized birds being about average.

On the day of release (early July) the crowd down below gave out a cheer as the first bird appeared on a papapet of Larson Dorm.   From that day on until mid-September, Peregrine falcon sightings were a daily occurrence on campus with the water tower being one of their favorite perches.

crowd Papapet

End Remarks :  Dr. Harrison (Bud) Tordoff, retired ornithologist at the Univ. of Minnesota, was the primary person for the restoration of peregrine falcons in the central states of the U. S.  He was the person who enabled us to get Odin, Thor and Loki from a local falconer who raises them.  Dave Burton, Bio. Tech. in the Biology Dept. first contacted Bud about acquiring the birds.   Bud was instrumental in helping to set up and guide us through this project.  He died in 2008 at age 85. Thor disappeared within 3 days after release, probably due to predation by a great horned owl, their main predator when they are young.  Odin and Loki remained around campus and could be seen most every day until mid-September when they disappeared, assuming for migration.  Loki was positively identified in 2003 with a female near the Hastings, MN, railroad trestle bridge.  While no peregrines have returned to campus to nest, they have been sighted over and around campus every year since 2001.  With breeding peregrines in the Twin Cities, along the Mississippi River, and in Rochester, Bud Tordoff said that after our 2001 activities, every peregrine within a 50 mile radius will be aware of our nesting site and we need to be patient as there is still a good chance peregrines will come here to nest.  You can see our peregrine nest box hanging from the north side of Larson Dorm today.  Coincidentally, another young peregrine falcon was injured near Stillwater, MN, during summer, 2004.  It was rehabilitated at the MN Raptor Center at the Univ. of MN and released from Larson Dorm in August, 2004.  We named him Lars.

Bud