By Lesley Crawford
A shriek echoes through the South Campus. Two slate-gray peregrine falcons are hunting small birds for their chicks, tucked safely inside a man-made nesting box near the top of the MacKay Heating Plant tower. Students, birdwatchers and passersby stare in awe at the majestic birds, which can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
UB’s “pefas,” as birders call them, have had their share of drama. In 2010, Smokey, UB’s male peregrine at the time, was chased off by Yankee, a male from another nest, who then hooked up with Smokey’s former mate, the tenacious BB. Together they raised an impressive 11 chicks until BB’s relocation in 2013 for aggressively dive-bombing people to protect her babies. Yankee and his current mate, Dixie, proud parents of three chicks last year, were looking after four little ones as At Buffalo went to press.
Peregrines were once endangered because of insecticide use, but thanks in part to a statewide partnership between local nesting sites like UB and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the state’s peregrine population has rebounded since the early 1980s. Before they fly the coop, chicks are banded at their ankles so DEC biologists can monitor their location, eating habits and other activities, using the information to better understand how to preserve the species.
In 2011, a live-streaming “falcon cam” was installed at the nest to give the public a closer look. A viewing shelter below at Winspear Avenue also accommodates the growing number of local birdwatchers, who follow every movement of these remarkable birds.