Peregrine falcons invited to Heritage Tower with a nest box of their own

The top of the Heritage Building in Battle Creek is just the kind of place that Peregrine falcons like to make their home. 

For these fast-flying birds urban towers remind them of high cliffs and bluffs on which they would raise families in the wild. 

Now the falcons that have made the downtown their territory over the past several years are being invited to move into a nesting box where a webcam can let the whole community in on how they raise a family.

A team worked together March 2 installing a nesting box atop the Heritage Building for the world’s fastest animals in hopes of attracting the nesting pair.

“Having Peregrines in our city can be positive in many ways,” says Josh Haas, bird photographer and president of Battle Creek Brigham Audubon. "Aside from providing natural pest control for feral pigeons and European starlings, they also provide local citizens a touch of wilderness close to home."

A nice long perch on the nesting box is one way the group hopes to entice the falcons to move in. “Time will tell, but we're thinking positively about the pair accepting the new nest box as their own,” says Haas.

As coordinator Jill Anderson, a special project consultant to the Battle Creek Community Foundation, planned the project to go atop the city’s tallest building she consulted with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources experts, National Register of Historic Places requirements, and Gail Walter of the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo, who leads the team that operates the nest-cam. 

“There is still a lot of construction happening as part of the renovation,”  says Anderson, “so we don’t know if the falcons will move in this spring.”  The 19-story tower is being renovated to include about 90 apartments. A mix of businesses and other uses could be included in another 25,000 square feet of commercial space. The project is moving forward after years work pulling all aspects of it together. 

Since there is no electricity in the 1931 Art Deco high-rise, the nesting box had to be carried up the 20-story, sometimes narrow, staircase. Haas built the box in segments to be carried to the roof of the 238-foot-six-inch tower and assembled there.

To carry the box, tools, and two bags of gravel, Anderson enlisted athletes. “The view from the top is a good reward, but these guys were also in it for the workout,” Anderson says jokingly. 

Gary Wiegand is a bodybuilder who works with 365 Farm at Leila Arboretum. Bill Kennenberg, and Len Parmenter are bicycle racers and mechanics at Trek. Together with service technician for CSE Morse Mitch Holder, the group reached the top of the tower with the heavy load and installed the box quickly on the southeast corner of the building. The box is visible from the playground at Mill Race Park. 

Peregrine falcons faced extinction in the 1960s due to DDT use. The pesticide thins birds’ eggs so they are crushed when the parents try to incubate them and as a result peregrines’ numbers had dropped to 324 known nesting pairs when they were given endangered species protection in the 1970s. When they were reintroduced in cities across the Midwest in the 1980s they began to thrive again. Now 90 percent of breeding pairs are in urban settings. (Twenty are in Chicago.) It’s believed that today there are at least 2,000 to 3,000 pairs. 

Known as the fastest bird in the air, they have few predators in cities. They’ve settled on top of cathedrals, on skyscrapers, window ledges, and bridges across 12 Midwestern states and portions of two Canadian provinces.

The birds' populations has rebounded due to federal and state protections and an extremely successful reintroduction program which released hundreds of falcons in the Midwest. Grand Rapids and Detroit received captive-bred birds in the 1980s, and today breeding pairs live in many Michigan cities. 

Members of the Battle Creek-area birding group noted the appearance of a nesting pair of peregrine falcons in downtown Battle Creek a decade ago. A nesting box was installed atop the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in 2014, but the falcons snubbed it. Then three years ago, a new female took over the downtown territory and has nested successfully each year since, atop the 19-story Heritage Building. 

So the public can monitor the birds, a webcam will likely be installed in the fall, with live-streaming of the birds beginning in Spring of 2019.  Free educational opportunities and downtown bird walks hosted by Battle Creek Brigham Audubon will be available to the public in the summer of 2018.

“With the redevelopment of the Heritage Building,” says Anderson “we see new energy downtown. Installing a nesting box is a literal act of ushering of new life into the building.” 

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.