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Illinois hunting and fishing

Peregrine falcons like this one seen Wednesday are occasionally found in downtown Springfield. This one was spotted the day after Island Girl left. Photos by Chris Young.

Famous peregrine flies quietly through Springfield

September 30, 2011 at 06:50 AM

The State Journal-Register

For a bird this closely watched, a peregrine falcon called Island Girl has a way of flying under the radar.

Island Girl is being closely tracked by researchers who want to learn more about why she migrates such a great distance, from Baffin Island northeast of Hudson Bay all the way to Chile.

Last Sunday night — about a week into her trip south — she spent the night roosting on the Illinois Statehouse.

Bud Anderson, director of the Falcon Research Group in Bow, Wash., was excited about her stop in Springfield, because Island Girl is off her usual course by more than 1,000 miles.

During previous migrations, she has followed the east coast of the United States all the way to Florida before heading west and then south again to Mexico.

Scientists have been tracking her for three years now.

This time, for some reason, she chose a more direct route.

“Apparently, she wanted to talk to your governor about something,” Anderson said with a laugh.

“It is so cool that she landed on your Capitol,” he said. “That’s never been seen before.”

Island Girl’s transmitter sends three signals a day, at midnight, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The signal at midnight Sunday pinpointed her on the Statehouse.

But she didn’t stay around Springfield long enough for the governor or anyone else to see her.

By Monday, Island Girl had moved on to southern Illinois. By Thursday, she was in Mississippi.

Despite wearing a conspicuous radio backpack unit and an antenna trailing behind, no one has been able to spot her.

“You never know when they are going to take off,” Anderson said. “If they eat a big duck, they may stay around in the morning. But if they haven’t eaten, they will be up before dawn hunting.”

Peregrine falcons are occasionally seen around downtown and at Lake Springfield.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Wednesday, a peregrine was harassing a flock of pigeons roosting on the roof of the Sangamon County Complex. When the falcon took flight, another peregrine joined it.

“Those are local peregrines,” Anderson said. “They don’t have to migrate far because there is plenty of food. They probably came from over near the Mississippi River.”

For birds like Island Girl, migrating is not an option.

“These high-Arctic birds, when it gets to be fall and winter, there is no light, no food, and it’s freezing cold,” he said. “Those birds have to leave. They have to go somewhere to make a living.

“Some birds go to Florida or Texas or right on down.”

Anderson calls those long-distance fliers like Island Girl “deep” peregrines.

“What pushes another bird down further south?” he said. “Nobody knows. We’re just trying to learn more about them.”

Island Girl continues her journey, and people are still trying to spot her.

“It’s kind of fun to chase her,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we like to share it with people. It’s such an amazing story.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.


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