by Lauren Weiss
Associate Editor, Digital Content
If ever there were a year the campus needed a boost from its resident peregrine falcons, it was 2021. Thankfully, the falcons delivered—literally. An unbanded male (most likely the winner of last year’s territorial battle with interloping banded male 21/BU from Tufts) and a new-on-the-scene banded female (72/BV, from the Verizon Tower in Brockton, Mass.) became the parents of four fluffy chicks that hatched in the Du Bois Library’s rooftop nest box in mid-May 2021.
Soon after, on May 21, hundreds of viewers tuned in from across the country for the first-ever FalConference hosted by the Libraries: a free, one-day public forum exploring all things peregrine. Presenters included Tom French and David Paulson ’10MS from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife; raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi; Richard Nathhorst ’79, Research Facilities Manager; staff members from the libraries; and Twitter pen pals from UC Berkeley. Panelists and guests gathered virtually to learn about peregrine repopulation efforts, bird banding, the technology behind the nest box and livestream camera, and how the falcons became social media “flock stars.” They also received a sneak preview of a new GIS map which provides visualizations of falcon data, as well as links to other bird cameras throughout North America.
The highlight of the event was a livestream of Ricardi’s Birds of Prey program. Ricardi runs the Mass Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Facility in Conway, Massachusetts, where he rescues and rehabilitates injured raptors. Ricardi provides permanent homes for birds who are unable to return to the wild; those are the birds he uses in his presentations across the Pioneer Valley. His FalConference presentation included appearances by owls, hawks, a turkey vulture, a golden eagle, and, of course,
a peregrine falcon.
In early June, MassWildlife’s French and Paulson made their annual trek to the top of the Library tower to present the chicks with new bling: like their mother, they now sport silver federal bands and black and green state bands that make it easier for researchers and bird-watchers to identify them in the wild.
As part of the banding, the Du Bois Falcons followed their California pen pals in having a naming contest, soliciting suggestions on Twitter for a final vote. The results overwhelmingly favored a suggestion from a fifth-grade class at Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst, Mass.: Kizzy (Band 38/CD), after Kizzmekia Corbett, the pioneering scientist who led the Moderna vaccine research. The two other winning names were Nut (39/CD), after the Egyptian sky goddess, and Uma (40/CD), after Uma Thurman, the movie actress who grew up in Amherst. The fourth chick was named Champ (86/CB) by the UMass Hockey team in honor of their historic national championship win.
On June 20, the chicks began leaving the nest box to explore the rest of the Library roof, hopping, flapping, and cawing at each other and their parents. On June 24, Champ scored a big victory: although missing from the roof the entire day and thought to be grounded somewhere near the Library, he had, instead, fledged,
and returned to the nest box that evening to brag to his sisters, who soon followed suit.
In early July, Kizzy unfortunately met a familiar fate; she was found dead near the Campus Center, likely the result of confusion due to window glare encountered during hunting. Roughly 70 percent of falcons don’t make it past their first year; however, educating people about them, as well as about human-created issues like window collisions, can help further protect the formerly endangered species and allow them to thrive.
That is why the Libraries are collaborating on the development of a new falcon curriculum, underwritten by the Libraries’ Sustainability Fund. Margaret Krone ’12MS, ’25PhD is working with MassWildlife, three public school teachers are already using the Du Bois falcon cam in their classrooms, and Eric Bloomquist, creator of an interactive map of falcon bandings and sightings across North America, powered by geospatial information systems (GIS) technology (also underwritten by the Libraries’ Sustainability Fund). The K-12 curriculum will launch next spring to coincide with the spring nesting season; the teaching and learning modules will be freely available, accessible, and modifiable by any interested instructors.