IMAGE:  Issue graphic
LINK:  Campus News
Chicago Journal  
University News e-bulletin  
LINK:  Features
The interpretation of the gods  
Executive Order  
China Reach  
Spy guy  

LINK:  Class Notes
Peer Review  
In their own words  

LINK:  Research
Research at Chicago  

LINK:  Also in every issue
Editor's Notes  
From the President  
GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine

GRAPHIC:  Campus News Chicago Journal

Falcon quest

An ornithological report from contributing editor John Easton:

For some time tales have circulated around campus that a peregrine falcon, until recently an endangered species, had taken up residence among the Gothic towers of the main quads—the urban equivalent of cliffs and ledges. So when Mandy Collins, a Hospitals housekeeper, came to my office October 29 looking for a guy with a camera to photograph the “giant killer bird in the courtyard,” I assumed the falcon was what she had found.

photo:  Peregrine falcon or Cooper’s hawk?
John Easton

Peregrine falcon or Cooper’s hawk?

We ran down to a big plate-glass window ten feet away from a crow-sized, brown and white bird, perched in a tree in the courtyard next to Chicago Lying-in Hospital. Below it were a pigeon’s bloody remains. In hospitals death is supposed to occur behind closed doors, so we had taken only a few pictures before a two-man clean-up crew arrived: one to gather the prey’s feathers and bones for burial and one to protect his colleague from the predator—who promptly flew away.

Pointing a camera out the window in a busy, narrow hallway drew a crowd. “This is a peregrine falcon,” I told the onlookers, “the world's fastest animal. They swoop down on other birds and knock them out of the air.” A Google Images search confirmed my impression—the bird must be a peregrine falcon. But within an hour Mandy came back to tell me our bird was a Cooper’s hawk. A neurologist had pointed it out in a book. I scoffed.

We looked at the prints of our bird, the Web’s peregrine falcons, and the book. It was a Cooper’s hawk—also until recently endangered, also fond of pigeons, also a cliff dweller and pretty darn speedy—but not the world’s fastest.

Later that day, to see if the bird had returned, I passed by the window, across from Dora deLee Hall, named for Joseph Bolivar deLee, considered the founder of modern obstetrics. It looks out onto a courtyard, three ivy-covered Gothic walls, and an arched gateway. DeLee, who designed the building in 1929, unwillingly made it a natural resting spot, and bottleneck, in the vast Hospitals corridors. He didn’t want a lot of doctors and patients trooping through his hospital, so he made sure no hallways lined up with the other buildings—an architectural challenge when they were finally connected decades later.

At that same window I had my only previous memorable bird-watching experience, equally punctuated with snap judgments. George Block, a feared, renowned, foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping, ex-Marine surgeon, swooped down on me in the hall, grabbed my arm, and dragged me to that window. I expected complaints about litter, or worse, but he pointed out the window to a big red bud tree in full bloom. Smack in the middle sat a bright red cardinal. “Look at that,” he said. “Isn’t that the most beautiful goddam thing you ever saw?”


2007 The University of Chicago® Magazine | 401 North Michigan Ave. Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611
phone: 773/702-2163 | fax: 773/702-8836 |