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State Stix

Illinois raptors

Driving along I-55 or Route 127 or whatever, you may notice, sitting on a fencepost, a bird about the size of a 30-cup coffeemaker. Do not be alarmed. This bird, easily viewed from a car, is a common Illinois raptor — most likely a red-tailed hawk. Its main food is small animals running around in the grass. It has no interest in your Toyota.

A broad-minded bird

Nobody has done a statewide count of red-tailed hawks, but it's obvious that there are quite a few living here. Red-tailed hawks thrive in Illinois because they are not picky. According to the Audubon Society encyclopedia, they "have a wider ecological tolerance of habitat than any other North American hawk." That means they are happy in the same fragmented rural landscape that nourishes farmers and downstate volleyball champions — mixed open field and pasture, interspersed with bluffs, woods and waterside trees.

Source for facts on red-tailed hawk: Glen Kruze, Endangered Species Protection Board, Department of Conservation.

What about that little bird hovering over the median?

You're probably looking at the smallest falcon in North America. American kestrels or "sparrowhawks" are about the size of a thin pigeon. Kestrels eat large bugs and small animals and are not afraid of trucks.

Homesteading the highways

Unnoticed by the rest of us, central Illinois kestrels have been using those big green-and-white interstate exit signs as nesting sites. In 1989, 20 kestrels were hatched along I-55, I-72 and U.S. Rte. 36. In 1988 the total was 27. This was accomplished with the help of Life Scout Andy Hart of Springfield, who learned that the kestrel population is declining because of a lack of old dead trees to nest in. In 1985 he attached nest boxes to the backs of 20 exit signs at a cost of $170 to the state's Nongame Wildlife Fund. With Andy now at the University of Illinois, his sister, Allyne, has been keeping track of the nests and banding the birds. Boxes on I-72 and I-36 have had the best occupancy rates.

Source for facts on kestrels: Jim Hart, planning division, Department of Conservation; press release, February 14, 1989.

Another Illinois raptor

Have you ever noticed that the concave face of a barn owl looks like a small satellite dish covered with feathers? If so, you are right on track. A barn owl's face works exactly like a satellite dish. The main difference is that the barn owl picks up sounds instead of hundreds of TV soap operas from all over the world. With slight head movements, a barn owl can pinpoint the source of a sound even in total darkness.

Another difference is that satellite dishes are increasing throughout the Midwest, but barn owls are on the endangered list.

The barn owl's best hope

For the last 50 years, the fate of the barn owl has been linked to federal farmland policy. When cropland is set aside, barn owls prosper. When it isn't, they don't. This is because they eat voles — little mice that live in hay fields, pastures and wet meadows. To get a good supply of voles you need a good soil bank program. Barn owls were doing all right in the 1950s, but their numbers dropped sharply in the 1970s when meadows were planted in row crops. Today, barn owls may have a fighting chance because of the Conservation Reserve Program.

Source for facts on barn owls: Rick Mooney, "Where have all the barn owls gone?" Farm Journal, February 1989.

A falcon chronology

Peregrine falcons are crow-sized hawks that dive-bomb other birds at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

    Pre-World War II: Peregrines nest throughout North America, preferring high cliffs overlooking grasslands and water. As the 20th century progresses, they suffer from loss of habitat, egg hunting and disease.
    1940s and after: The use of DDT virtually exterminates peregrines east of the Mississippi; populations depleted in the West and Alaska.
    1970: A program to raise captive peregrines is established at Cornell University.
    1975: The first captive falcons are released.
    1978: Scarlett, a peregrine from Cornell, selects a building in Baltimore, Md., as a nest site.
    1986: Five peregrines are released from the rooftop of University Hall at the University of Chicago.
    1989: There are now 15-20 breeding pairs in the Midwest. Three of the pairs live in Illinois.

Urban pioneers

One pair of peregrines has lived in the Chicago Loop for three years. Their nest is on a ledge on the 34th floor of the One-Twenty-Five South Wacker Building. They like the up-drafts and the pigeons. Last year they raised two chicks — the first hatched in Illinois since 1951. This year they raised one chick.

A northside pair was seen acting territorial around tall buildings in Chicago's Irving Park district this spring, but they were just looking. Maybe next year.

A third pair of peregrines has been spotted several times over Evanston and Fort Sheridan. This year they had two young with them.

And an Indiana pair raised three chicks this summer in the niche of an off-ramp of an elevated street in East Chicago.

Source: Vicki Byre, director, Chicagoland Peregrine Release, Chicago Academy of Science.

Bald eagles pull it off

After three years of trying, a pair of bald eagles successfully raised a chick at Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County this year. It was the first chick hatched there since 1943.

Source: Department of Conservation, press relax, July 6, 1989.

Eagles or artificial surf?

That may be the question in eagle country near Grafton on the Mississippi River. Environmentalists are trying to get the Adams Development Company of Alton to change its mind about building a water theme park there.

Source: Wayne Politsch, Piasa Palisades Sim Club.

General funds

The general funds balance at the end of October was $359,651 million. The average daily available balance was $481,370 million.

Source: Office of the Comptroller.

Jobless rate up

In October the nation's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 5.3 percett. The Illinois rate rose to 6.8 percent, the highest in 11 months.

There were 5.934 million people in the state's labor force; 5.531 million had jobs and 403,000 were unemployed.

Final unemployment rates in the state's major metro areas in August were:

    Aurora-Elgin, 4.9 percent.
    Bloomington-Normal, 3.7 percent.
    Champaign-Urbana-Rantoul, 3.8 percent.
    Chicago, 5.7 percent.
    Davenport, Rock Island, Moline (Illinois sector), 6.4 percent.
    Decatur, 7.3 percent.
    Joliet, 6.3 percent.
    Kankakee, 7.0 percent.
    Lake County, 3.6 percent.
    Peoria, 5.8 percent.
    Rockford, 5.9 percent.
    Springfield, 4.2 percent.
    St. Louis (Illinois sector), 7.0 percent.

Source: Department of Employment Security.

Margaret S. Knoepfle

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 6

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