History of the Du Bois Library Falcons
Peregrine falcons have successfully nested on the roof of the Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst since 2003. The most well known pair, which nested on the Library roof from 2003-2014, hatched a total of 37 chicks.
The Pioneer Valley has been active in falcon restoration efforts since the adverse effect of DDT, an agricultural pesticide, became public knowledge in the sixties; one of the first release sites was on Mt. Tom in Holyoke between 1976 and 1979, according to the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife and Fisheries. The Peregrine Falcon chicks were bred, raised and released by the Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization created in 1970 dedicated to saving birds of prey from extinction. Peregrine Falcons are one of the most widely distributed birds, living in every continent except Antarctica, but DDT in the United States decimated their numbers, leaving no nesting pairs east of the Mississippi River and creating a desperate need for restoration organizations.
With the strong conservation efforts in the Pioneer Valley, it’s no wonder that by 1988 UMass Amherst had begun its own falcon program, setting up a nesting box on the 13th floor of the Lincoln Campus Center. Inside were five chicks, flown in from Peregrine Fund headquarters in Boise, Idaho, to be raised and released that summer. Kate Doyle ’90, G’97 and Katherine Kripp ’90, G’97, then graduate students in Biology at UMass Amherst, were given the task of feeding and monitoring the chicks until they fledged. The women, wanting to avoid human contact with the birds, watched and recorded their activity through a spotting scope from a rise near the Campus Pond and secretly dropped food into their nesting box.
“The job was partly about outreach,” says Doyle. “People would see us with this huge scope in the heat of summer and ask us why we were out there. It allowed us to explain the project and teach them a little bit about Peregrines and their endangered status.”
That July the five falcon chicks took flight, eventually leaving the Campus Center never to return, and marking an 11-year falcon chick hiatus for UMass Amherst. In March of 1998, a nesting box was installed on top of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library with an adult falcon observed going in and out of the box that same year. The next May a nesting pair was seen flying frequently to the nest box with prey, signaling the potential return of falcons to campus.
And return they did, with a total of forty falcon chicks fledged from 2003-2016!
A live web camera was installed atop the Du Bois Library in 2012, allowing the public to watch the pair raise their chicks, and garnering more than 200,000 viewers in 2014 – double the audience in 2012. The webcam is made possible by the UMass Amherst Facilities Planning Division, UMass Amherst Information Technology (IT), the Libraries' Systems and Web Management Department, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), and the Friends of the Libraries, all of whom have helped in supporting, installing and maintaining the camera.Viewers can stream the webcam from the Library website at http://www.library.umass.edu/falcons.
The official timeline of the UMass Amherst Falcon Program was created by Tom French, at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who has assisted the UMass Amherst falcons since 1988 until his retirement in 2019.
1988 - Five chicks were hatched on the 13th floor of the Lincoln Campus Center.
1988 - Nest box installed March 27, 1988 on the 26th floor lower roof parapet wall of the 28-story W. E. B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst.
1991 – Two Peregrines seen on campus February 21nd.
1998 – One adult seen going in and out of nest box in spring.
1999 – Pair in and out of nest box with prey in May.
2000 – A pair present.
2001 – A pair present and eggshells were found in the box on May 3rd.
2002 – A pair present but abandoned the nest box early. They were frequently harassed by a territorial Red-tailed Hawk. Peregrines seen on January 25, 2002, and October 21, 2002, but it is unknown if they were the same pair.
2003 – One unbanded female fledged on July 15 and one unhatched egg was collected.
2004 – On June 5, two females and two males were banded.
2005 – On May 31, two females and one male were banded.
2006 – On June 5, one female and one male were banded. On June 20, the male was picked up on the ground and returned to the roof. The female fledged.
2007 – On May 30, two females and one male were banded. On September 1, one of the females was found deceased at the Providence, Rhode Island airport in Warwick.
2008 – On June 5, one female and two males were banded. On June 11th, one of the male chicks fell to the sidewalk and was returned to the nest.
2009 – On May 27, three females and one male were banded. A new nest box with a camera was installed in October. One of the females was found nesting on a smokestack at a power plant in Martin’s Creek, Pennsylvania in 2012, raising four chicks.
2010 – On May 28, two females and one male were banded. The un-hatched egg seen on May 20 disappeared over the previous week. One of the females was picked up on July 28 on the ground near the Library with a broken corticoid and taken to Tufts. She was released in Grafton around October 2, 2010. The male was picked up injured in Virginia and was in rehab; his outcome is unknown.
2011 – On June 8, two females and two males were found in the box. Three flew away and one female hid in the box and was caught and banded by Ralph Taylor and Dave Fuller. Over the next several days, each bird ended up on the ground and was banded. A wing of the first Upland Sandpiper documented as prey by MA Peregrines was recovered on June 8, along with the wing of a Least Sandpiper. One of the males was found dead on September 8, 2011, in Cohasset.
2012 – On May 23, one female and three males were banded.
2013 – On May 5 one chick hatched, followed by two more on May 6th.An unhatched egg was still intact on May 10th, but was gone by banding day. On May 29, one female and two males were banded.
2014 – Three chicks hatched on May 6, 7and 10. The unhatched egg broke on May 14 and the youngest chick died on the same day. On May 30, two males were banded.
2015 - Current Female #1 - Banded in 2013 in Sorel, Quebec; two years old. Current Male #1 –Unbanded; estimated to be about two years old. A female chick hatched on June 2, and the male chick hatched on June 4. On June 9 and 10, both chicks were treated for a mite infestation, after MassWildlife and UMass Veterinarian Dr. Paul Spurlock called for intervention. (The mite was later identified as the Carnid Fly, Carnus hemapterus.) On June 29, officials from Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife banded both chicks. The female chick is Black 76/Green BS and the male chick is Black 01/Green BE.
2016 - In May 2016, the 14th generation of Peregrine Falcon eggs was laid; the second brood for the three-year-old falcon pair that took over the nest box following the departure (after the 2014 season) of the previous falcons that lived in the nest box for twelve consecutive years, the quick arrival of this new couple is a soaring testimony to how far the species has come since near extinction in the 1960s. Current Female #1 - Banded in 2013 in Sorel, Quebec; three years old. Current Male #1 - Unbanded: estimated to be about three years old. Of the four eggs that were laid, two were not viable. The first chick hatched on May 18 and perished a day later, having accidentally choked on a piece of food. The second chick, a male, hatched on May 21, thrived, and was banded by on June 13. His band number is 90 Black over BS Green. He fledged on the morning of June 30, 2016.
2017 - There were originally four eggs in the nest box for the 2017 season. Over the weekend of May 6-7, two of the eggs were lost. One disappeared and the other was eaten by the female parent. We cannot be certain of the cause of the loss of the eggs. On Wednesday, May 10, two chicks pipped and hatched. On May 30, Tom French and David Paulson of MassWildlife banded the two chicks. The female chick is band number 08 Black over BV Green, and the male chick is band number 07 Black over BU Green. They both successfully fledged in mid June.
2018 - When we installed the camera on April 23, we found one egg in the nest. Because of the cold temperatures and wet weather in April, the single early egg was inviable. No more eggs appeared in 2018, though falcons were spotted around the library every month of the year.
The Peregrine Fund: http://www.peregrinefund.org/about
United States of America. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Division of Wildlife and
Fisheries. Peregrine Falcon. Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Dec. 2007. Web