In fact, a peregrine clutching a pigeon in its talons flew past Chris Newman as he and his family watched the June 29 air show from atop the Fifth-Third Bank parking garage. I wasn't there, but given the bird's long hiatus, I'm betting Newman showed as much excitement at seeing the peregrine as at seeing the air show.
Among those who care about birds, especially about peregrine falcons, Newman's sighting set off a celebration of sorts. Here's why.
Fifty years ago, habitat loss and pesticide use, including DDT, had combined to cause eastern US peregrines to go extinct. Simultaneously, western populations dropped by 90 percent. In 1974, reintroduction efforts began, breeding remaining subspecies to produce captive chicks. Indiana benefited from the research, and the first peregrines nested successfully in East Chicago in 1989--the first in almost 100 years.
Five years later, peregrines flew the skies in Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Indianapolis, readily substituting tall buildings for their native cliff-side habitats. But no one found any nests. That same year, the last set of 15 chicks and one rehabilitated falcon were released in Evansville. Those who were a part of that release still speak in awe about the experience.
But nothing happened. The birds dispersed or disappeared; none stayed to nest.
For about two years, Newman and other active area birders have had off-and-on area peregrine sightings. In early May, however, multiple sightings of a peregrine stooping on shorebirds near floodwaters along S. Green River Rd. and at Eagle Slough gave credence to a possible area resident. All this spring, sightings were of juveniles, but Castrale points out it's possible all sightings were of a single bird. They roam.
In addition, he suggests that the juvenile(s) spotted this spring would now, at more than a year old, wear adult plumage, making it possible that the young adult currently residing downtown is the same bird spotted numerous times as a juvenile.
"The longer a bird visits an area, the more likely it is that it will stay," Castrale explained. He gives us a "better than 50/50 chance" that this peregrine will set up territory here, seek a mate, and nest.
Through photos, Castrale identified the current bird as a female young adult "because of the reddish streaking and big feet" and, he adds, the fact that she was flying with a mature pigeon--a heavy load for the smaller male.
After a more than a 100-year absence, then, this bird gives hope that once again a peregrine family will race across Evansville skies.
For a complete history timeline of peregrines in Indiana, go online to in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3314.htm.