Meet Piper, Aero, Horus and Genesis, peregrine falcon class of 2023

More than 250 people showed up for this year's peregrine falcon banding ceremony, which was held in person again for the first time in three years, while thousands of others watched online.

Piper, Aero, Horus and Genesis had much to take in on Friday, May 19. They were plucked from their nest box atop the Mayo Building to receive health check-ups and identification bands, and to be officially named.

The ceremony happened under the close watch of more than 250 guests who had flocked to Geffen Auditorium to attend Banding Day in person after a three-year pandemic pause. Thousands of others watched the ceremony on the Mayo Clinic Peregrine Falcon Program website.

Local photographer Jerry Olson and Jeff Grotte documented the happenings.

High-risk retrieval

As soon as Jackie Fallon, Mayo's peregrine falcon expert, and her team emerged from a small hatch on the roof to approach the nest box, the chicks' parents — Hattie and Orton — were on high alert. They wasted no time swooping down to defend their young offspring.

Hattie makes a close fly-by as John Olson – protected by Jenni Mattson- records Banding Day proceedings.

That's why team members were armed with umbrellas, hard hats and other protective items to divert the concerned birds. At the same time, Tom Behrens, Facilities Management, carefully lifted each chick from the box and handed them to Fallon, who placed them in a custom-made carrier.

Tom Behrens, left, prepares to lift the first falcon chick from the nest box.

Banding under close watch

Once all chicks were retrieved, the falcon team began the 10-minute journey from the roof of the Mayo Building — through tight staircases, freight elevators and corridors — to Geffen Auditorium in the subway level of the Gonda Building.

The chicks' carrier is divided into four compartments with plenty of netting for fresh air to give the vocal chicks the most comfort while preventing them from inadvertently hurting each other.

Behrens, followed by members of the Midwest Peregrine Society, Facilities staff and others, walks through the Mayo subway carrying the four falcon chicks.

Once the team arrived at the auditorium, the falcon chicks were placed on stage, where Colin Anderson and Katie Burns from the Midwest Peregrine Society were ready to assist Fallon in the banding. While Fallon and Anderson tended to each falcon chick, Burns provided commentary.

A peregrine falcon chick is placed on a kitchen scale for a brief health check-up before the banding.

After each chick was placed on a kitchen scale to record its weight, Fallon gave a brief health check-up, including a swab to test for avian influenza, which has ravaged bird populations.

Each bird then received two identification bands. Falcon affixed a federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services band on each chick's right leg and an auxiliary band to the left leg. The auxiliary band can be read from 800 feet away.

"We found all of the nestlings to be in good health, free of parasites, well hydrated, and right on track for their development as 18- and 20-day-old peregrines," Fallon says. "They are about 80% of their adult size at this age and mainly growing in their outer body and flight feathers from here until fledging."

Fallon carefully affixes an identification band to a young falcon.

Much-anticipated naming

Banding Day also brought the much-anticipated naming of the young falcons. This year, special guests George Fulford and Charlotte Smith, both five years old, assisted in drawing a name for each falcon. The falcon team received more than 3,400 suggestions from 883 fans from Mayo and around the world.  

George Fulford and Charlotte Smith pose with one of the falcon chicks held by Colin Anderson.

The peregrine falcon class of 2023 is made up of two boys and two girls who received these names:

  • Aero (female).
  • Horus (male).
  • Piper (female).
  • Genesis (male).
Piper, Horus, Aero and Genesis pose for a group photo.

Back to the nest box

After the traditional group photo, the falcons were quickly returned to the nest box, where they continue to be cared for by Hattie and Orton.

"Our priority is to minimize the stress as much as possible, and we have never had nestlings abandoned by the adults due to the banding activities," Fallon says. "We care for the welfare of the nestlings and adults, and if there is any question about the banding potentially negatively impacting the birds, we will cancel the event."

This brood of chicks brings the total number of falcon chicks to hatch at Mayo Clinic in Rochester to 74 since the program began in 1987. While many move to other territories and can be tracked in the Midwest Peregrine Society database — enter "Mayo Clinic" under "Specific Location" — Hattie and Orton have returned to the nestbox in Rochester for six consecutive years.

"I can't thank Mayo Clinic enough for continuing to participate in this restoration program. I can't think of a better facility to bring to life the words of Emily Dickinson, 'Hope is the thing with feathers,'" Fallon says.

Anderson, Fallon and Burns pose with falcon chicks before returning them to the nest box.

Watch the ceremony

If you missed the ceremony or would like to watch it again — including the retrieval of the falcons on the roof — check out the video below: