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BABY DINOSAURS IN THE CITY!... and we've been studying them for years! We talked with Field Museum ornithologist Josh Engel about how scientists gather information and take risks while monitoring these impressive aerial predators.

By the 1960s the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) was extinct in many states - including Illinois - because of the negative effects of the pesticide DDT. But, thanks to dedicated reintroduction and monitoring efforts over the last 30 years in part from Field Museum scientist Mary Hennen and The Chicago Peregrine Program, just recently these birds were removed from the Illinois threatened species list!

There is a TON of information about the Chicago Peregrine Program on The Field's website:

Read more about the announcement from the Chicago Suntimes:

Be sure to 'like' the Chicago Peregrine Program's Facebook:

Want to see more images of the peregrines in Chicago? We've got 'em!

Big thanks to Mary Hennen, Stephanie Ware and Josh Engel for taking the time to help us film this episode!

Come hang out in our Subreddit:
Twitters: @ehmee
Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera:
Tom McNamara

Theme music:
Michael Aranda

Created By:
Hank Green
Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

(The Brain Scoop Intro plays)

Emily: We're here in the egg collection with Josh Engel, who's a research assistant in birds, and Josh, what is your involvement with the Peregrine Program?

Josh: I go along on the banding efforts to help gather the young from the nest, and then when they're inside, I help with the banding and I do the blood draw so that we have blood samples from all of the young.

Emily: This is something that you do pretty regularly at this time of year, and what is involved with the process, I mean, besides, like calling up Tom and I and getting us to grab our camera and go.

Josh: (laughs) Yeah, so there's about a three week period starting usually at the end of May and going into June where all of the young Peregrine Falcons in all of the 20 or so nests around the area are just the right size that we can grab them and put bands on their legs.

Emily: So you went out, you got all suited up, you got your gloves, and your bike helmet, and your broom and one of you will go out there, take one of the young, put it in a box and bring it back inside and then what is it that you're doing?

Josh: Yeah, so we very carefully, we just have to lean out a window at that site, we reach down with our gloves-- the peregrines at this point, even though they can't fly and they're only 20 or 25 days old, they have pretty fearsome talons,

Emily: Yeah.

Josh: very sharp beaks so we definitely have to wear those leather gloves. We have the broom that keeps them both from hitting our heads and also from flying into the windows that's right there and if we do everything right, it just takes a few seconds, we grab the young, put them in a box, take them back inside, and then we can take a deep breath and get everything organized on our little table and-- you know we have a lot of equipment with us for banding, we have equipment for taking a blood sample. So that's a tube with a liquid in it that preserves the blood, some cards that are specially treated to preserve DNA that we put blood on. One by one, we take the young birds out, we put bands on their legs, take bloods samples, put them back in the box and when it's all done we take them back into that same room, we put them right back into that nest where we got them in the first place.

Emily: And then they're good to go.

Josh: And they're good to go.

Emily: How long does it take for them to become fully grown?

Josh: After those first three weeks, they'll start losing those white downy feathers, growing the brown feathers that are distinctive of their juvenile plumage. The flight feathers on the wings and their tail will start growing to their full size and after about three more weeks... they go.

Emily: Oh wow.

Josh: Well we hope that after six weeks they're actually ready to go and that first flight is successful, sometimes that first flight, especially in an urban environment, where they don't have a lot of room to maneuver, they end up on the ground or on the roof of a nearby building or something and if that happens and we find out about it we can actually grab them and put them back in the nest, and usually the second try is... a go.

Emily: Give 'em another go round!

(text: How long is a peregrine's lifespan?)

Josh: Birds across the board, the highest mortality they have is in the first year of life and that's no different in birds of prey and other raptors. If they make it through that first year, the lifespan is on average 13 to 17 years. I think the oldest ones that we've had nesting in the Chicago area are 16 years old.

Emily: Wow.

Josh: And at that point, they get kicked out of their territory by a younger bird.

Emily: How does this compare to like your other experiences I guess looking-- or viewing birds in the wild.

Josh: Well it's a very different angle. I see peregrine falcons all over the world, they live almost everywhere. I've seen them on different continents, and it's really amazing to see them in their native habitat, flying around cliffs, on mountainsides, but to see them here in this urban setting, a place where I grew up, and to get up close and personal with them, you know there's nothing like having a peregrine-- female peregrine diving at your head because you're trying to take the young out of her nest and that's something that, you know in the normal course of my birding, it doesn't happen. And if it does, something's very wrong.

Emily: Then you're not doing bird watching correctly. You're doing this scientific missions against the fastest animal in the world.

Josh: They're formidable.

Emily: Yeah. I mean I wouldn't want to--

Josh: having them flying at your face over and over can be a little, a little nerve-racking, but we do it in a way that we know we'll be safe.

Emily: So--

Josh: And we know that they'll be safe, too.

Emily: keeping that in mind, like, how do you feel about Jurassic Park? I mean, you're essentially doing the same thing, you're battling dinosaurs--

Josh: I would take a peregrine over a velociraptor any day.

Emily: Yeah. Touche.