Attack From Above!

by Scott A. Rappe

While I was preparing breakfast earlier this week, my six year old, Nicholas, ran in from our third floor deck. “Daddy! Daddy! Come out here and get rid of the pigeon head before mommy sees it!”

He had stumbled across the grizzly evidence of an avian murder. It was a mystery: we had never seen a cat on our deck, and felt certain we could rule out a fox, coyote and cougar, though all of these creatures have been seen in the City in recent years. Later that day I relayed the story to my brother Doug, who replied: “What you’ve got is a Peregrine falcon!” The pieces all fit together.

In 1970, Peregrine falcons were put on the endangered species list. None lived east of the Rocky Mountains and populations were declining in the west. Their rapid decline was the result of the pesticide DDT, which weakened eggshells and decimated the reproduction cycle of the birds. Biologists bred peregrine falcons in captivity and reintroduced them, both into the wild and into urban environments.

It turns out that, just as for humans, cities are great places for peregrines to live and raise families. Skyscrapers with ledges offer protected perches similar to the cliffs the birds would normally inhabit. And cities offer another benefit: ample prey in the form of pigeons. In researching the birds I found many similar descriptions of the aftermath of peregrine falcon attacks: “…leaving the less tasty parts like heads and feet…”

Peregrine falcon nests are now established in many parts of the city beyond the Loop, including Edgewater, Uptown, Lakeview, Lawndale and Pilsen. Perhaps we are lucky enough to have a nesting pair in the East Village area? With the increasing domination of the Polish Triangle by pigeons, we can only hope!