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Rare Peregrine Falcon Nesting on Detroit Zoo Water Tower

Rare Peregrine Falcon Nesting on Detroit Zoo Water Tower

(Detroit Zoo, March 9, 2017)

Royal Oak, MI – Detroit Zoo staff and local birders are “tweeting” about a rare cliff-nesting bird species that has taken up residence on the water tower at Woodward Avenue and 10 Mile Road in Royal Oak. One of the most visible landmarks in the region, the tower is now home to a pair of peregrine falcons first observed in June of last year.

Since peregrine falcons lay their eggs on gravel or dirt with minimal nesting material, the water tower did not have a proper area for the birds to build a nest. Detroit Zoo bird staff worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to design and construct a nesting box that meets the nesting pair’s needs.

“The nesting box was installed on the southeast side of the water tower – not an easy task – to offer protection from the wind while exposing the birds to ample sunshine,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “The box is visible from the westbound service drive at the traffic light at Woodward.”

Peregrine falcons were affected by DDT pesticide contamination in the 1950s, causing thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation. The population declined rapidly and, by the early 1960s, the species was extinct in the eastern U.S. It was one of the first to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Efforts to reintroduce the birds into urban environments began in 1982 when chicks were released from buildings, bridges and other manmade structures in locations with an abundance of ample prey such as pigeons, doves and starlings. The success of the program led to the removal of the peregrine falcon from the federal endangered species list in 1999. The birds currently nest at a number of locations throughout southeast Michigan.

DZS veterinary staff work with the DNR to band peregrine falcon chicks with unique color combinations used for individual identification when the birds mature and establish their own nests. The male peregrine falcon on the water tower, identified as Justice, hatched in 2012 at the Jackson County Tower Building. The female is not banded so her age and hatch location are unknown.

The water tower was constructed by the City of Royal Oak in 1928 to provide adequate water pressure for the north Woodward-area water system, whose service area included the Detroit Zoo. The tank performed that function until 1984 when it was shut down due to a defective valve, and has since served as a giant billboard pinpointing the Zoo’s location.

“The water tower now serves a more useful purpose as a home for Justice and his female companion,” Carter said.

The Detroit Zoological Society – a renowned leader in education, conservation, animal welfare and sustainability – operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.  In recognition of its environmental leadership, the DZS received the top Green Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and was named Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain’s Detroit Business.  The AZA also recognized the DZS with the International Conservation Award for its work rescuing orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  With an annual regional economic impact of more than $100 million, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is one of Michigan’s largest paid family attractions, hosting more than 1.6 million visitors annually.  Its 125 acres of award-winning naturalistic habitats are home to 2,000 animals representing 245 species.  The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit.  It provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community.  For hours, prices, directions and other information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit

NOTE:  A previous version of this story used the word “falcons” instead of “falcon.” It  has been updated with this correction


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