For Tom Behrens, Wednesday, May 25, brought an annual routine at Mayo Clinic he has helped manage for 30 years. This time, though, the event took flight in a direction he did not expect. It was banding day for Mayo's class of 2022 peregrine falcons. And when it was all said and done, one of the chicks carried his name.
Behrens, a unit head in Facilities Operations, didn't see the recognition coming.
Banding day is always a busy one for him. The falcon chicks in the nest box atop the Mayo Building in Rochester are about 3 weeks old, but they don't move around much yet. It's just the right time for Jackie Fallon, Mayo's naturalist, to band the birds. And banding takes a sizeable team to complete.
Behrens' job is to lead that team — which includes Fallon, falcon handlers, Facilities Operations staff, media representatives and others — through a maze of corridors, staircases and elevators to the rooftop to retrieve the young birds.
He then opens the nestbox, plucks the falcon chicks from their home, and hands them to Fallon. It's a process that has to happen fast. Falcon parents Hattie and Orton are none to pleased with the activities involving their offspring.
Over the years, Behrens has been on the receiving end of swipes by Hattie, despite wearing a hard hat and several of his team members waving brooms to keep the adult falcons at a safe distance.
Back in Judd Auditorium, where the banding took place, Behrens watched Fallon and her team carefully weigh, examine, band and name the birds. The names for the chicks were drawn from more than 1,700 possible names suggested names by fans of Mayo's Peregrine Falcon Program.
Behrens was delighted as Comet, Nova and Rebel received their official recognition. When the time came to name the fourth falcon chick, Fallon went off-script. She asked Behrens to join her on stage and announced that the last falcon chick of the class of 2022 would be named Tom in honor of Behrens' 30-year involvement in Mayo's Peregrine Falcon Program.
"I was very surprised, humbled and a little lost for words when it happened," Behrens said. "I am really lucky to have so many great people who help with this program and who deserve all the credit."
Fallon suggested Behrens deserved credit, too.
"We would not have the success with this project without everything Tom and his staff do in support of the program," Fallon says.
Behrens' part in Mayo's Peregrine Falcon Program — which began in 1987 as a conservation effort — includes much more than handling banding day logistics.
When Mayo hired Behrens in 1992, he says he became involved in the program in his first week.
"It sure wasn't in my job description," he says.
Behrens tends to the falcons' needs year-round in close collaboration with Fallon and the Heritage Days team, which took the program under its wings many years ago. Behrens' team maintains the nestbox, installs new technology such as the live falcon cams, assists Fallon with live programming, and on occasion retrieves injured falcons found on Mayo grounds.
Behrens says he has noticed how much the falcons have meant to patients, staff and visitors over the years.
"It's really cool for us in Facilities to know we have a direct effect on patients, staff and everyone who is watching. You can't help but feel happy," he says.
As for Tom, Behrens has a special wish for his namesake and his siblings.
"My wish for falcon Tom is to be the first one to fly and be a quick learner," he says. "And maybe I get a report next year that he is down South somewhere enjoying the weather."
You can watch videos of the banding on the Employees at Mayo Clinic Facebook page. There, you'll find a segment recorded on the rooftop and another one recorded in the banding room. You don't need a Facebook account to view the videos.
Learn more about Mayo's Peregrine Falcon Program.