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Posted on Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 6 a.m.

University of Michigan's Burton Tower to undergo renovations, with special attention to falcons that perch there

By Juliana Keeping

Burton Tower - perhaps Ann Arbor's most recognizable landmark - will soon see $1.6 million in renovations, including repairs to stonework and to the metal framework supporting the 53-bell carillon in the tower.

The tower, built in 1936, is also home to a pair of peregrine falcons, which have stood watch over past renovations, hardly bothered by the presence of workers, a U-M bird expert said.

Burton Tower

In 2008, workers repaired limestone on Burton Tower. | File photo

The last time the tower saw repairs was 2008, when crews fixed cracking and falling limestone. The building houses classrooms and offices for the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, as well as the Charles Baird Carillon.

"In previous years when they've worked, the falcons haven't seemed concerned at all and continued to perch," said Janet Hinshaw, the bird division collection manager for the U-M Museum of Zoology. "It's not going to bother them that they're working on the tower."

The renovations, approved by the U-M Board of Regents Thursday, are slated to begin in August. From then until work wraps up in the summer of 2011, the carillon will not be played.

Hinshaw has a good view of Burton Tower from her office and has watched the falcons since they were first spotted in March 2006, the last time officials stopped the carillon bells temporarily. 

Over the last few years, the birds have started to hang around a number tall buildings in addition to the 192-foot Burton Tower, including the U-M Hospital and Ann Arbor VA hospital. 

At Burton Tower, they like to perch on the top ledges of the tower, just under the roof. Traditionally, the species nested on cliffs, but since being re-introduced to city settings in the '60s and '70s following a stint on the endangered species list, they've taken up residence on tall buildings.

In 2007, a young male peregrine was observed on U-M's campus in Ann Arbor, but he was run out of town by the pair. Peregrines are territorial - a city is typically only big enough for one couple, Hinshaw said.

So far, the birds haven't had success building a nest on Burton Tower, though they may have tried. Hinshaw found a broken egg at the base of the tower in the spring, which was the first evidence she's seen of nesting.

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A peregrine falcon is shown during a Leslie Science Center program.

File photo

"We're not sure what happened with the egg," she said. "It didn't hatch - there was egg yolk and stuff with it. They apparently tried but at least were partly unsuccessful. I've not seen an indication that they have chicks."

The Department of Natural Resources may have plans to build a nesting platform on a hospital building to lure the birds away from the construction, she said. It would also allow wildlife officials a better opportunity to observe the falcons. To get into the upper levels of the tower, crews have to wear climbing equipment and scale ladders.

Juliana Keeping covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sat, Jun 19, 2010 : 12:04 a.m.

One nice things about having a resident pair of falcons is that they help scare away (and occasionally eat) the pigeons that roost downtown. Peregrines are specialists that mainly eat other birds, voles are not usually on their menu. Staff at the Museum of Zoology have been collecting the scraps that fall down around the base of the tower, and now have quite a lot of information about what they've been eating. There's a display in the Exhibit Museum that discusses this. Also, Janet Hinshaw (the collection manager mentioned in the article) has put up a webpage about them. I'm not sure sure she's been able to update it this year but there are some beautiful photos and plenty of information: Peregrine falcons have adopted tail buildings in several cities in southeast Michigan. Jackson has a breeding pair of peregrines this year Here's a webcam aimed at their nest There's also a pair breeding on the Macomb County Building in Mount Clemens: and a pair in Grand Rapids: and a family on the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie The Department of Natural Resources has a page with more information about the species' history in Michigan:,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12202-32592--,00.html


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 12:55 p.m.

For all you bird lovers...check out this website!!


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 11:03 a.m.

glad they are concerned about the falcons. wouldn't want it to turn into the fiasco like in NYC with Pale Male--the hawk.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 11 a.m.

@TopCat you want to see a cool sight go on the river between Ford and Bellivile lakes.Bald Egales, Crains and Egrets.They're in the water,the trees every where

Top Cat

Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

Birds are cool. We have a pair of Sand Hill Crains nesting in our wetland this year. They look like miniature pteradactyls.

Wystan Stevens

Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

Years ago, my little sister had a Falcon. As a matter of fact, her Falcon also was driven out of Ann Arbor. (After years of peregrinating, sister now is permanently located in Oregon. I don't know what she drives these days.)


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

Wow - had no idea that didn't produce baby falcons. That's too bad. I hope they can give them a nesting platform - that's a great idea.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

"vole costume" ROFL

Elaine F. Owsley

Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

Ignatz could go underground like the rest of his vole brethren and be safe from the falcons. Do the falcons have names? Like "Maizie and Blue" for instance.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

I wounder its the same one's I see around my house near Washtenaw Country Club? I found a dead one a few years ago on the east side of Ypsi twp


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

I wounder its the same one's I see around my house near Washtenaw Country Club?


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

It's because of those dang falcons that I can't wear my vole costume around the Tower anymore.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

I just love examples of people being interested in the natural world - and people being invested in ways to accommodate and appreciate the other living creatures that share our brief time here. I hope the falcon pair is able to resettle to the proposed platform - would be cool to find out more about their habits.