FINALLY! Chick One!
I left for the MCC very early since I was scheduled to meet Mary at 9am to go to another site. As I rounded the corner of Clark and Congress, I looked up towards the MCC. The building stood in profile, so at best, I expected I might see the very tip of a tail if an adult were on the ledge. I did see the tip of a tail, but for some reason it simply struck me as different — probably color — and I instantly thought, “A chick!”
Hoping it wasn’t wishful thinking sinking its claws deeper into me, I hustled as fast as I could to the exit-only stairwell and climbed to the center platform. I poked my head out and, ‘lo, a chick!
Ok, I just have to say how relieved I am that I haven’t been hallucinating this whole bloody time — Yes, Virginia, there really are MCC chicks!
I watched the chick flap and prance up and down the ledge for a minute before deciding to get a better view. I ran back down the stairs and went directly to the ticket booth for the LaSalle and VanBuren ‘el platform. Dashing through the turnstile, I looked up and saw the chick. Not two chicks or three yet, but dang, I’m glad to see at least one chick.
Quickly, I called Dan Cozza and got his voicemail. I left him a message before calling Mary. She laughed when she heard the news and said, “Yep, see? You shouldn’t have doubted what you were seeing!”
I had about 40 minutes before we had to leave for Lawndale, so I watched a bit more. Max came in with some food and landed on the ledge next to Chick #1. I noted that C#1 was just a touch smaller than Max, so surmised it might be a male. C#1 was very polite as Max tore off bits of the bird and fed it to him. That is so neat to watch. Max is so delicate when he feeds the babies.
After feeding C#1, Max took the meal down into the nest and I heard another chick making noise. C#1 peered down into the nest, watching what I could not see and I closed my eyes. This time, after I managed to drown out all the city noise, I only heard one chick. So, perhaps there are two jail chicks this year? Or, three and one is just very, very quiet. We’ll see!
When Max came back out of the nest, I caught a picture of him just after he hopped into the air. The remains of the bird he carried in his talons looked as if it had been eaten by a school of voracious pirrhanas. The things was picked nearly so clean, the bones barely had enough remaining tissue to hold them together. Impressive!
Finally, it was time to meet up with Mary, so I silently bid the new MCC falcon a good day and ambled on to the museum. In short order, Mary and I were on our way out to the Old Sears warehouse in Lawndale, a neighborhood on the west side of the city.
I haven’t had an occasion which required me to go to the west side of Chicago, but I understand it can be a little rough. That said, I was looking forward to seeing a part of my city I hadn’t yet seen. As it turned out, the area around the old Sears building was actually pretty nice. There’s been a lot of work done to provide new housing and some pretty park land. The old Sears building, especially the tower where the peregrines have nested, is very neat looking, even for an abandoned building.
Mary parked and we hauled our stuff out of the back of her car. The day had made a turn for oppressive, with the humidity somewhere in the high 80% and the temperature pushing 90. I noticed straight away that there was little cover. Ugh.
We spotted one adult high on the tower fairly quickly. I set up my scope and peered through. The humidity haze caused some fairly drastic distortion and while I could get a closer look at the bird, seeing leg bands would be impossible. So, I scanned the surrounding ledges to see if I could see any others.
As we looked, a boy of about eight or nine tugged on my shirt. I smiled down at him and he smiled back, a big toothy grin.
“What are you doing?” he asked, looking at my scope curiously.
“We’re watching birds. Falcons. They nest on the tower,” I said.
“Falcons? Wow. No way! Here?!?”
Mary pulled her binoculars over her head and handed them to the boy. She explained about peregrines and helped him find the adult with the binoculars, much to his very expressed delight.
“Do you know what the fastest animal in the world is?” she asked him.
“You are right that the cheetah is the fastest animal on land. They can run up to 70 miles per hour. But that bird up there is the fasted animal on Earth. When they dive, they can go up to 200 miles per hour, maybe more.”
I would be seriously understating if I were to say the boy was impressed. He got so excited, it made me giggle. He told us that he and his friends play in the grass field around the tower and they find bunches of dead birds.
“And bird heeeaaaads,” he finally whispered. “Allll over the place. We thought it was haunted or something.”
Mary dispelled him of the notion of a haunted tower by explaining the peculiar hunting strategies of peregrines. He stood in rapt attention. I started to lower the legs of my scope so he could look through when he spotted his brother far down the street. Before I could get my scope set up for him, he ran down the street yelling at his brother. It didn’t take long before they were back and Mary and I went through the whole impromptu lecture again. We let both boys look through the binoculars again and both look through the scope, which I’d managed to finally make short enough. They asked a million questions and told us all sorts of interesting things about the local wildlife.
After they left, Mary laughed. She pointed over at a nearby large construction site.
“That is going to be a new grade school. Should be done next year, I think. When it is, I want to make a pact that you and I come out here and give the kids a nice long talk about the peregrines. Maybe we could even arrange to hold an outside mini-field trip, see what we find below the tower, set up our scopes and stuff.”
I was quite happy to spit in my palm and shake on that one.
We watched the adult for a bit more and then packed the scope up. Before we left, we made a circuit around the base of the tower. We found Yellow-billed Cuckoos, American Robins, Flickers, Rock Doves (city pigeons) and a number of other bird wings, heads and feather clusters. By the time we reached the car again, we were both covered in sweat. The adult still napped in the shade near the top of the tower. Smart bird.
Although we didn’t see a nest, juveniles or even a second peregrine, meeting those two boys really made the trip for me. I think it did for Mary as well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — being part of this program is more than just the birds, it’s meeting all the people and seeing how excited people get about the wildlife in their midst.