The Field Museum is presenting an exhibition that is positive and inspiring. It is a science story, a success story, a compelling story of community and nature. It begins in the 1950s when Peregrine Falcons were going extinct throughout North America. Before pesticides like DDT were banned, the pesticides interrupted reproduction, interfering with the bird’s ability to hatch healthy chicks. The story about the Peregrine falcon’s return from near extinction to a population that is healthier than ever and populates much of the Midwest is on display at the Field Museum along with an exquisite book that details the story with text, watercolors paintings and photographs.
This story is also about Field scientist Mary Hennen who has been working for decades to restore Illinois’ population of these majestic creatures. The day the exhibition opened Mary Hennen brought her Peregrine falcon, Molly, to visit with those people who came to see the exhibition. Molly has her own story, having once lived with a woman who cared for her until the woman was 102, at which point, Mary took over Molly’s care. Molly is not a pet, but was handicapped so that she can’t be sent out on her own, safely, so Mary is a caretaker of sorts.
Amazingly, an extraordinary population of these cliff-dwelling birds now makes its home in Chicago neighborhoods—sometimes literally outside people’s windows. The Peregrine Returns, running from June 23, 2017 to June 24, 2018 explores the decades-long research and hard-won successes of Hennen as she worked to save these birds.
The small and charming exhibition allows visitors to enjoy the captivating watercolor paintings of artist-in-resident Peggy Macnamara, who portrays how Chicago’s architecture has enabled Falcons to survive and thrive. Peggy Macnamara’s paintings are exquisite and compelling. They are a joy to see both in the exhibition and in accompanying book, The Peregrine Returns, The Art and Architecture of an Urban Raptor Recovery.
This is Chicago at its best. The majestic local birds, The Field Museum Staff with a wide range of talents, the curator for the Field Museum Exhibition, and the University of Chicago Press printing the gorgeous book.
I was moved and uplifted seeing the exhibition. Looking through the book, the text is very interesting but the gorgeous paintings and photos pulled me from one page to the next, intrigued and charmed by what I read and saw.
Some facts that caught my attention in the book included, from Mary Hennen, “By the 1960’s Peregrines in the United States had declined to less that 12 percent of their historic levels and were extirpated (wiped out regionally) from the Midwestern and Eastern United States”. Peggy Macnamara notes, “The Field Museum community is a beehive of activity exploring, explaining, and recording what is happening on our planet. Each member of the community contributes something unique”.
I was intrigued to learn that there are various nesting sites throughout the city to which the Peregrines return for nesting each year. Find out where they are by visiting the exhibition or obtaining the book. In addition, “the Chicago Peregrine Program has been a wide network of volunteers, all with a goal of helping to re-establish Peregrines back into the wild”.
Photos: B. Keer
Go to the Field Museum Website for more information