EAST LANSING, Mich. — Newly fitted with tracking bands, four peregrine falcon chicks named Pickles, Muhammad, Egbert and Swooper have a nest in one of the best seats — make that perches — at Michigan State University's football stadium.
Scientists and college students on Wednesday carefully attached metal tracking bands to the fluffy white chicks’ legs. At about a month old, they're still not much bigger than a pigeon and can't yet fly away from their manmade nest atop Spartan Stadium. But the boisterous birds already have sharp talons and beaks, so the banding process was handled with care.
The chicks weren’t too happy about the experience, writhing and squawking. Once a tag was applied to a chick’s leg, the bird was placed back in a box. And the squawking ceased.
The chicks have become celebrities in East Lansing and around the globe, thanks to a web camera and livestream by the school’s Fisheries and Wildlife Club, which installed the nest box on the stadium roof last year. The chicks could be seen resting calmly in their nest later Wednesday, under the watchful eye of a parent.
Club members helped band the chicks on the stadium's 8th floor near the press box, overseen by Chad Fedewa, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Moments earlier, Fedewa and Jim Schneider with the university's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife journeyed up to the roof to retrieve the chicks despite their parents — Freyja and Apollo — angrily screeching and hovering above. They were named in a Twitter contest, and a Michigan elementary school decided on the chicks’ monikers.
“I've seen what they do when you have to get to their chicks. Fortunately, they didn't get too close,” said Schneider, who held an umbrella aloft in case mom or dad made a move toward the humans tasked with retrieving their offspring.
“They make a lot of noise, but they're not too intimidating," he said, adding that there were “a couple of stoops in there,” referring to a falcon's hunting dive.
Peregrine falcons are considered the world’s fastest birds. They can reach 200 mph (322 kph) during a dive.
The American birds were declared endangered in the 1970s due to ingesting prey that was poisoned by pesticides. Recovery programs have brought the raptor back from potential extinction.
Now that the chicks are tagged, researchers will be able to keep tabs on the birds’ eventual migration patterns and survival rate. Until then, viewers at home can follow along as the baby falcons grow up.
“It's really gratifying to see people get involved with it and make the same personal connections that we do,” said Molly Engelman, the club's president and a senior from Plymouth, Michigan. “It’s like they’re our children, a little bit.”