I grew up in Colorado. For those of you faithful readers who have never been to Colorado, the state is a dramatic melody of regions—taken together they form a symphony of the beauty of the wild. The eastern high plains blend seamlessly into the agricultural grasslands of Kansas and Nebraska. The southern parts of the state are deserts—my childhood home straddled the former Mexican-American border in a semi-arid region in the southeast. We received very little rain and huge amounts of sun. Yet for all of this it is the Rocky Mountains for which the state is most well-known. I grew up in those mountains.
Over the years I climbed hundreds of peaks. I walked into ghost towns and skied rutted, old mining trails. I rafted in Class IV white water—canoed long stretches of calmer rivers. I hiked across treacherous passes and watched the fire of the Milky Way alone on the tranquil shores of alpine tarns. I dug snow caves to weather a weekend in January on the Great Divide. There was not a season of the year that I did not spend overnight above timberline.
Now I live in Chicago—in the very heart of the city, mere blocks from some of the tallest buildings in North America. The contrast is astounding.
So it is with this defiant reverence that I now find myself assisting Whirl with her latest, startling project: the Chicago Peregrine Falcon project.
Whirl works for the biology department at The Field Museum. The Field Museum was founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. It is named to honor its first major benefactor, Marshall Field. I have written about Marshall Field before—specifically his contributions to the city and the nature of business. The Museum’s collections have grown to more than twenty million specimens through world-wide expeditions, exchange, purchase, and gifts. This is how most people know of the museum—as a matter of fact, the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit is the museum’s largest attraction just now. What many people do not know is that The Field Museum is also a research institution. The museum hosts an impressive scientific staff to conduct research in the fields of systematic biology, geology, zoology and anthropology. The Peregrine Falcon project is one of those research projects.
For over twenty years, the Field Museum has been involved in the reintroduction of peregrine falcons to the Midwest. After learning that peregrine falcons were able to adapt to an urban environment by substituting the niches and ledges of modern skyscrapers for their natural habitats of cliffs, researchers introduced two mated pairs of birds into the city of Chicago. Today there are fourteen mated pairs in the metropolitan area—twelve pairs within the city limits of Chicago. Two of these pairs are within a ten-minute walk from our home, in the heart of the Chicago Loop.
In early May, Whirl was asked to take over the primary observation duties for a pair of falcons nesting on the Metropolitan Correctional Center. This maximum security prison serves as a holding center for people awaiting court appearances in city, county, state and federal courts. It is also home to a mated pair of falcons and their four chicks.
I have seen predators in the wild: wolves in Minnesota; eagles, foxes, coyotes, bears and mountain lions in the Rockies of Colorado. I have seen animals in the city, as well: rats, mice, pigeons, gulls, the occasional raccoon, stray cat or fox. – But watching an apex predator living and thriving in the very heart of the urban business world of America is a fascinating experience. I would like to invite you to follow along and share my child bride’s observations and witticisms with this project in her field journal—she has some beautiful pictures and even more wonderful insight.