It’s a grey morning in Chicago and a mist rolls in from Lake Michigan. Twenty-eight floors up, Dacey Arashiba pours himself the first coffee of the day and settles on his sofa for his morning ritual in front of the box. But this is one box very few people will have the opportunity to watch, for this is a flower box, hanging from his balcony railing, and in it sits the fastest animal in the world. A peregrine falcon, brooding over her four chicks.
‘I first noticed them about four years ago,’ Arashiba tells us. ‘It was just standing there, scanning the horizon. And then it turned its head, and it looked at me, and I looked at it, and then it just sort of fell over, like a little Batman, and flew away.’
From that point on Arashiba would notice them resting on his balcony or swooping by as they hunted. Then last year the visits became more regular. ‘They took a bit of an interest in the flowerpot,’ he says, but unfortunately tenants of the surrounding condos complained about the noise and the birds were shooed away by the building’s maintenance. This didn’t deter them however, and a few months later they returned. When Arashiba saw that they had laid eggs, he immediately got in touch with Mary Hennen, the Director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, and learnt that they were federally protected.
‘It makes sense if you think about it,’ explains Hennen. ‘Look at the city as a pseudo cliff, situated on an ample waterway. Well you have to think, if you have all this territory that’s non-occupied, not used by great horned owls or anything, then there’s no competition. It has a great prey base, so why wouldn’t they use the city?’
Peregrines had been declared extirpated in the state of Illinois in the early 1950s. Sadly the first clutch on the balcony did little to changed that, all the eggs failed to mature, and Hennen believed it was unlikely the falcons would return. Then this year, at the beginning of April, the same pair of peregrines appeared on Arashiba’s balcony once again. The female created a scrape in the untended flower box, and laid four eggs. Arashiba waited and watched, updating his growing online audience throughout the process. ‘I’m not going to say they are exactly used to me,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t go out there and try and pet them. But I can approach the window. I can open up the door to take pictures.’
All four eggs hatched into the fluffy white chicks pictured here, and steadily grew into four miniature versions of their magnificent parents, before all successfully fledged. There are now around 20 breeding pairs in total in Chicago, with six pairs living within five square miles of each other, and in June of this year the peregrine was removed from Illinois’ Endangered & Threatened Species List. As Hennen points out, ‘we should now be using the peregrine project as a springboard for educating us’.
This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine