They had to take being banded lying down – but they didn't have to be quiet about it.
Three little peregrine falcons retrieved from their rooftop nest at the Indiana Michigan Power building in Fort Wayne in the service of science Tuesday squealed and squawked into the hearts of about 70 curious onlookers while having identification tags placed on their feet.
Born about 28 days ago, the two males – Ranger and Glenn, for late astronaut John Glenn – and one female, Phoebe – underwent a ritual that has occurred every spring when adult falcons have used the utility skyscraper's nest box to reproduce.
The banding helps track the birds as efforts continue to repopulate them to areas where they should do well, said John Castrale, a retired state Department of Natural Resources biologist who now volunteers for banding duty.
“We're not hurting them at all,” he said as he checked the health of one of the chicks by peering into its open beak. “They're just excitable.”
Good thing Castrale isn't.
While removing the babies from the nest box, he was buffeted from behind by adult peregrines flying at his head at least a half-dozen times.
The birds' vigorous defense of their nest above I&M's 26th floor could be seen as it happened by a live video stream by those waiting in I&M's second-floor auditorium where the banding took place.
The procedure also was streamed via I&M's Falcon Cam, which has been providing must-see TV of the babies and their mom, Moxie, and dad, Jamie, to a rapt audience of raptor enthusiasts.
Because of banding, scientists know that Moxie is a wild bird from Canton, Ohio, born in 2011 and Jamie is from Port Sheldon, Michigan, and born in 2010.
Banding means it can also be known that one peregrine went from Fort Wayne to Detroit and then south to Costa Rica in a matter of three months, said Bob Walton, an educator with Soarin' Hawk.
The Fort Wayne-based nonprofit organization rehabilitates injured or orphaned birds of prey and assisted at the banding.
At speeds of up to 200 mph when diving for prey, peregrines are the world's fastest birds, Walton said. They got their name from the long distances they fly, or peregrinate, he said. As for Ranger, Glenn and Phoebe, they can look forward to growing their flight feathers in the next few weeks and starting to fly by the time they're 40 days old, Castrale said.
Fully grown, they'll weigh two to four pounds, with the female larger than the males. That was in evidence Tuesday in the lower-pitched and louder squawks from Phoebe, Castrale noted.
The birds' parents are among 16 to 20 pairs now in Indiana, he said, noting the natural habitat of peregrines is rocky cliffs and bluffs above rivers. But they've adapted to living on high ledges on buildings, utility towers and under bridges, he said.
Like many large birds of prey, peregrines suffered a population crash between 1950 and 1970, when accumulation of toxins in their prey softened eggshells, causing loss of young, according to projectbeak.org, a conservation education group in Nebraska.
The birds have rebounded from deliberate reintroduction efforts, but females typically lay and fledge only two young per year, Castrale said.
“So we're ahead of the game,” he said.
To view live streaming of Indiana and Michigan's falcon cam, click here.