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Downtown Falcons Soaring In Des Moines

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American Enterprise is an ordinary building with some extraordinary tenants--and chances are, you never thought to look.

“Since 1993," says Iowa DNR biologist, Pat Schlarbaum, "when the peregrine falcon discovered their alcoves, their cubby holes at the top of their building, it was just a perfect nest site. And they’ve been here ever since.”

It’s not always the same falcon pair that nests here, but this one has some chicks, and it’s time to drop in for a check-up.

The parents fly nervously overhead as the DNR-contracted window washing crew carefully removes their fluffy young.

“Just two this year,” says one member of the crew, holding the chicks in a small plastic cage.

Waiting below are veterinarians who give the noisy falcon chicks a checkup and slip identification bands around their ankles.

“From those bands, we’ve learned that the Des Moines birds have gone to Winnipeg, up in Canada, all the way to Mexico City," Schlarbaum says.

Schlarbaum, a falcon specialist, uses this as a teaching opportunity for local school kids, who he says will be responsible for protecting the birds in the future.

“They were wiped out from the Missouri River to the east coast,” he tells them.

Since the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, peregrine falcons have made a comeback across America, and here in Iowa, there are now thought to be at least 17 breeding pairs--one of them here, and another on the east side of the Capitol. Most of the other pairs reside in the cliffs along the Mississippi River in the northeast part of the state.

“This recovery or this rejuvenation is truly a remarkable story to share with the world,” Schlarbaum tells the children who've gathered at the foot of the building.

The falcons do return the favor by preying on urban pigeons. But they also illustrate to young generations the power and proof of conservation.

“We all have a stake in the betterment of these birds, so it’s just not a DNR project,” Schlarbaum says.

It’s likely only one of these chicks will survive its first year, but it seems assured that Iowa’s falcons will continue their recovery in one of the last places you would have thought to look.

The falcons are the fastest creatures in the animal kingdom and can snatch a pigeon in mid-air at more than 200mph.

1 Comment

  • Lori Harvey

    An interesting historical note on this story – They were taken off the endangered species list after a record number of them were seen at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN during the fall migration in 1988.

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