UMass Lowell to ‘adopt’ peregrine falcons
After soaring through two decades as the River Hawks, UMass Lowell is finally getting a couple of the birds to call its own — no mascot costume needed.
A pair of peregrine falcons, originally discovered nesting atop a dorm building by maintenance workers seven years ago, are to be “formally adopted” by the university at a public ceremony on Tuesday, school officials said.
They will also be given names, which were submitted by students and faculty and are currently being voted on through a poll on the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s website.
“Aside from the fact that they’re magnificent animals, it’s an opportunity to educate our students and the public about this endangered species,” said Christine Gillette, a university spokeswoman. “We only have about 22 pairs [of falcons] in the state of Massachusetts, and one of them is right here in Lowell.”
A celebration of the “symbolic adoption" will take place at Hawk’s Nest Cafe on Aiken Street at 2:45 p.m. and will include guest speakers from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Gillette said.
The adoption of the live hawks is also meant to play off of the university’s mascot, the River Hawk, which was chosen two decades ago in recognition of the various species of birds living along the nearby Merrimack River, Gillette said.
“We’ve had great success in athletics, with the hockey team making it into the Frozen Four last year and all sports being elevated to Division 1,” Gillette said. “The River Hawk has become a huge sense of pride for our campus, and the presence of these falcons on campus is a great symbol of that.”
The pair of falcons were first spotted by workers atop Fox Hall, an 18-story dorm building and the tallest building in Lowell, in 2007. They have since returned to raise chicks every spring, and have been closely monitored by university officials, wildlife experts, and local birding enthusiasts.
Officials also built a “nesting box” for the falcons in 2007, in the form of a small, gravel-covered box meant to replicate the cliff-side caves the birds typically inhabit in the wild.
“In nature they tend to gravitate toward high areas for protection and to see prey, so they’re actually pretty well suited to urban areas,” said Christine Dunlap, one of the event organizers. “They gravitate to the tallest building they can find, which is why they picked Fox Hall.”
Webcams, added both inside and outside the nest in 2008, stream live footage of the falcons’ activities on the university’s website. The cameras were recently upgraded to infrared in order to capture video at night without disturbing the birds.
The video provided students with a front-row seat for the first egg of the season, which the female falcon laid on Wednesday.
“In the ‘70s, insecticide had almost entirely wiped out their population, and there are still only a couple dozen nests in the state,” Dunlap said. “But she’s already raised about fifteen chicks.”
The soon-to-be-named mother is expected to lay another two or three eggs by the end of the week.