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The Indiana State University Board gave the okay. The state of Indiana signed off on an expenditure of up to four million dollars. An architectural firm was hired to provide a safe, cost-effective plan. Attendees at ISU President Bradley’s 2012 annual fall meeting applauded the news.
No doubt about it, the Brutalist Statesman Towers that have dominated the northeast corner of the Indiana State campus for 45 years are going down.
Even though they still have residents.
Sure, they could be called squatters who simply took over an abandoned building. They don’t pay ISU for their room. They don’t actually squat either – they perch. And they live on top of the tall-for-Terre Haute buildings, not inside them.
These last residents, who have brought the Statesman Towers back full circle to their original function as dormitories, are a pair of peregrine falcons. Unlike university officials who believe the 15-story twin towers have outlived their usefulness, the falcons apparently found the structures to be a perfect home.
Steve Lima, Professor of Biology at Indiana State University, confirmed that the peregrine falcons are still at Statesman Towers, and that they will likely stay there until the building is torn down under them. The university has removed their nesting box, but that doesn’t mean they know it’s time to move on.
“It’s not the box,” Lima explained, “it’s the buildings. The environment is just like a cliff to them.”
This nesting box was actually installed ten years ago, when a single peregrine falcon was found to be wintering on campus. According to Lima, it’s not unusual for falcons to winter alone.
“There’s no benefit to being together if they aren’t nesting,” he said. “They just get in each other’s way hunting. When they nest, the female stays with the young, and the male feeds everybody.”
However, the peregrine couple living on Statesman Towers has wintered together here in Terre Haute. Because they’re banded, we know they are originally from two larger cities. The male was hatched in Indianapolis in 2008 and the female, in Louisvillle, Kentucky, a year later. They showed up together and moved onto Statesman Towers in 2010.
Later, they tried to start a family. Peregrine falcons don’t actually build a nest. They create a scrape on a ledge. That’s where the Statesman Towers concrete composition may have proven a little different from a natural canyon ledge. The eggs rolled off.
Smart enough to learn from their mistake, the falcons took advantage of the nesting box. Three chicks hatched in May of 2012and were successfully raised. Terre Haute isn’t large enough to provide hunting territory for more than one pair of falcons, so the second generation moved on.
Peregrine falcons were listed as endangered in 1970 after populations declined in the mid-twentieth century due to pesticide use. The Eastern sub-species did become extinct, but reintroducing captive-bred birds brought peregrines back to the East and Midwest, and they were removed from the federal endangered list in 1999.
An Indiana reintroduction project began in 1991 with 15 young birds released in Indianapolis. Over the next three years, a total of 60 birds were introduced, and Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville added to the release sites. Efforts to identify likely sites for nest boxes are on-going.
The peregrine falcons on Statesman Towers did not nest this summer, possibly due to increased activity in the buildings as items like furniture and air conditioners were removed for salvage. Whether they will stay in Terre Haute when the towers are demolished later this year is unknown.
“This is their city,” Lima said. “Statesman Towers have been an ideal environment. It would be great if we could leave at least one of the towers for them, but that’s not going to happen.”
Lima noted that the falcons find good hunting here, with pigeons and starlings downtown and ducks and other waterfowl on the Wabash River. He was emphatic when asked if peregrines ate crow.
“Other birds won’t attack a crow,” he said. “Crows are too aggressive.”