Zephyr, South Bend's resident male peregrine falcon and a longtime symbol of strength and grace in the sky above downtown, died Tuesday after apparently striking a pole while hunting not far from the Chase Tower.
A woman found the bird standing on the sidewalk late Tuesday morning in the 100 block of North Lafayette Boulevard, near a metal pole set into the parking lot behind Colfax Place. He had blood on his beak and appeared dazed. A dead dove was found nearby.
“The way I see it, because of the way we found the dead dove next to him, he came down, grabbed the dove … and then slammed into that pole,” Carol Riewe, a local naturalist and raptor rehabilitator who responded to the scene, said.
Riewe, who is one of just a couple of people who frequently monitor the city’s falcons, placed the bird in a carrier and drove it to Gilmer Park Animal Clinic, where he died about 45 minutes later of an apparent head injury.
“I’m rather despondent,” Riewe said of her reaction to the bird’s death. “We were all worried last year when … we realized he only had one foot … but the fact that he made it through another year, we thought, ‘Well, it isn’t too bad. He’s adjusting and it shouldn’t be a problem.’”
Zephyr lost his right foot in an apparent trap accident in April of last year.
Despite the injury, he continued performing his duties ... duties such as incubating eggs, as seen here in this video of his mate Guinevere taking over for him during one of his egg-sitting shifts...
... And after those eggs hatched he continued to hunt, providing food for Guinevere and the couple’s two unnamed chicks at the time.
Riewe said the missing foot did not play a role in the bird’s death. However, had Zephyr survived the crash into the pole, he would have been taken in captivity because of the severity of his injuries.
“He was injured enough that if he had survived he would have had to live in captivity,” Riewe said. “He never would have been releasable again, and for a bird that’s been free for 13 years, that would have been a horrible thing. He would not ever have been happy with that. He would’ve been a very miserable bird. So perhaps, if he had to get hurt, the ending is the way it should go. We’ll just miss him, that’s all.”
Riewe said she does not know what will happen to Zephyr, but that, if it’s OK with the state, she’d like to have him stuffed and mounted for educational purposes.
With Zephyr gone, Guinevere must now raise the couple’s sole surviving chick alone. (Three chicks hatched in the couple’s nesting box in May, but strong winds fatally blew two out of the nest.)
“Basically, she’ll have to feed herself and the chick, and finish raising the chick and teach it how to hunt and give it the direction it needs, so it’ll be a little tougher for her,” Riewe said. “And beyond that, I don’t really know.”
The feeding part, at least, should not be a problem, according to Mike Jones, a bander with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The female is quite capable of feeding only one young,” Jones said, “so there isn’t any problem there.”
The chick, which is about a month old now, just started flying, Riewe said, but not very well.
As part of an effort to reintroduce breeding pairs of peregrine falcons to the wild in Indiana, the state Department of Natural Resources placed nesting boxes atop a number of tall buildings, including the Tower Building in downtown South Bend, in the state in 1993.
Zephyr, born in captivity but released in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1999, and Guinevere, an unbanded bird of unknown origin, started nesting in the Tower box in 2003. The “pioneering pair,” as Riewe described them, became almost instant celebrities.
“People got used to looking at them and people got used to watching them,” she said. “I got calls every spring wondering if the eggs had been laid and if the chicks had been hatched. People just adopted them … they just became South Bend’s birds.”
Riewe said she is grateful for the following Zephyr and Guinevere acquired from the community over the past 10 years.
“They had a fan club,” she said, “a whole base of people that watched them every year, that were interested in the chicks and how many there were going to be and how are they doing. It’s gratifying to see that people can be concerned about something close to home like that.”
Once it becomes clear that Zephyr is gone, Guinevere, who is believed to be about 11 years old, will probably look for another mate, Jones said.
“It’s not uncommon for birds of prey to lose a mate, you know it’s pretty rough out there for birds of prey,” he said. “But she’ll find another one. Yeah, she’s not going to have a lot of trouble finding another mate.”
Male peregrine falcons migrate through the area each spring between northern Canada and South America, Jones said. Guinevere and Zephyr have even had to run some of them off in the past.
As to whether Guinevere will stay here and nest again, that’s another question entirely, Jones said.
“My feeling is she will stay,” Riewe said. “She has been here for 10 years, she has raised 10 broods of chicks here, so basically this is her home, and raptors tend to have a strong attachment to their home area.
“But we will learn,” she said. “This is very new for us.”