Peregrine Falcon Reunites with Family on Detroit Zoo Water Tower After Flight School

Falcon chick who was struggling to fly is now soaring thanks to rehabilitation

July 22, 2020

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

A peregrine falcon chick, who was the fourth hatchling born in the Detroit Zoo’s water tower nest earlier this year, has been reunited with her family after spending time with a local licensed rehabilitator learning how to fly.

The daughter of peregrine falcons Justice and KJ was fledging from the nest with her siblings when she flew close to the ground and then couldn’t make it back up to the nest — an issue that is not entirely uncommon at this stage in the birds’ lives.

“She was the smallest chick of the four and didn’t have the muscle strength to fly like the others,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “Since it would be difficult for her to build that strength on the ground, we made the decision to send her to a bird rehabilitation specialist.”

The female peregrine falcon spent a week in rehabilitation before being banded and released on top of the Detroit Zoo’s parking structure.

“She soared beautifully back to her home,” said Van Dam. “The next day, we were thrilled to see her around her siblings and parents once again.”

Thanks to the DZS’s Virtual Vitamin Z animal live cameras, thousands tuned in to watch this year’s falcon family grow — from nesting to hatching to fledging. The DZS will now be able to track the life journey of the young female falcon in addition to her parents.

Peregrine falcons in the wild were affected by DDT pesticide contamination in the 1950s, causing thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation. The population declined rapidly and, by the early 1960s, the species was extinct in the eastern U.S. It was one of the first to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Efforts to reintroduce the birds into urban environments began in 1982 when chicks were released from buildings, bridges and other manmade structures in locations with an abundance of ample prey such as pigeons, doves and starlings. The success of the program led to the removal of the peregrine falcon from the federal endangered species list in 1999. The birds currently nest at a number of locations throughout southeast Michigan. In recent years, the rare cliff-nesting bird species has taken up residence on the water tower at the Detroit Zoo.