UND Water Tower Falcon Chick named in honor of Helen Hamilton

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News Article

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School of Law


Four peregrine falcon chicks drew quite a crowd Wednesday afternoon below the UND water tower.

About 70 people gathered to watch regional raptor expert Tim Driscoll of Grand Forks band the four chicks, offspring of Terminator and Marv.

Terminator, a female hatched in 2006 in Brandon, Man., has been nesting in Grand Forks since 2008, the first two years on the Smiley water tower and since 2010 on the UND water tower. This year, she produced four chicks with Marv, a newcomer who first showed up on the local peregrine scene last year.

Four is a record hatch for Terminator, whose previous best was three, Driscoll said.

The four chicks—two males and two females—hitched a ride from their nest box high atop the UND water tower courtesy of climbers Cory Floden and Nate Reitan, who ascended the tower and carefully placed the birds in a pet carrier, which they lowered to the ground by rope.

Terminator, meanwhile, circled the 150-foot water tower none too happy about the disturbance, judging by her constant shrieks. Marv also showed up later after a midday hunting foray.

"She's done this eight times before," Driscoll said. "She started squawking the second we put the ladder on the tower."

Show and tell

Driscoll, along with Laura Bell of the University of Minnesota-Crookston and her husband, Jeff Bell, a UND graduate student, banded the four chicks—in the process delivering one of the coolest show-and-tell sessions any of the spectators are likely to see anytime soon.

Also helping was UMC student Tiffany Muellner.

Gerry Nies and his wife, Patsy, of Grand Forks, were among the crowd who gathered to watch the banding and pet the downy chicks. Patsy Nies said she's attended more than half a dozen previous banding events, while Gerry Nies was watching for the second time.

"It's absolutely fascinating to think they've come back from virtual extinction," he said.

Besides banding the chicks with bands on each leg, the crew took blood samples for genetic testing and avian malaria before returning the birds to the pet carrier and their rope-drawn ascent back to the nest box.

Driscoll said the chicks are about 22 days old and will remain in the nest another 20 days or so.

This year's names

In keeping with tradition, Driscoll also named the chicks, dubbing the females "Malala" after Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who won a Nobel Peace Prize after surviving an assassination attempt aboard a school bus for defying the Taliban's ban on girls attending school; and "Helen" for Helen Hamilton, the first woman to graduate from the UND School of Law.

The males he named "Lewis" after Bob Lewis, a birding expert Driscoll cites as a mentor; and "Nelson" after Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and politician.

This year's Grand Forks peregrine hatch marks another positive step in the successful recovery of a species that was on the brink of extinction by the early 1970s. The banning of DDT and an effort to restore the species by raising captive birds and building nesting boxes paved the way for a recovery that culminated with the falcons' removal from the endangered species list in 1999.

Grand Forks and Fargo have the only two known nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in North Dakota. According to the Midwest Peregrine Society, Minnesota has more than 60 nests, mostly along the North Shore, the Twin Cities metro area and the Mississippi River bluffs in the southeast part of the state.

Driscoll says he's not surprised by the local interest in Grand Forks' nesting peregrines.

"Peregrines, they're the king," he said. "They fly fast, they get all the press—they're just cool. And they're right here in River City.

"If I'd have been an 8-year-old kid and they told me I could stand 5 feet away from a peregrine falcon, I'd have said, 'No way.'"

These days, it's an annual occurrence.