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The Peregrine Returns

The Art and Architecture of an Urban Raptor Recovery

With Illustrations by Peggy Macnamara and Photographs by Stephanie Ware
Peregrine falcons have their share of claims to fame. With a diving speed of over two hundred miles per hour, these birds of prey are the fastest animals on earth or in the sky, and they are now well known for adapting from life on rocky cliffs to a different kind of mountain: modern skyscrapers. But adaptability only helps so much. In 1951, there were no peregrines left in Illinois, for instance, and it looked as if the species would be wiped out entirely in North America. Today, however, peregrines are flourishing.

In The Peregrine Returns, Mary Hennen gives wings to this extraordinary conservation success story. Drawing on the beautiful watercolors of Field Museum artist-in-residence Peggy Macnamara and photos by Field Museum research assistant Stephanie Ware, as well as her own decades of work with peregrines, Hennen uses a program in Chicago as a case study for the peregrines’ journey from their devastating decline to the discovery of its cause (a thinning of eggshells caused by a by-product of DDT), through to recovery, revealing how the urban landscape has played an essential role in enabling falcons to return to the wild—and how people are now learning to live in close proximity to these captivating raptors.

Both a model for conservation programs across the country and an eye-opening look at the many creatures with which we share our homes, this richly illustrated story is an inspiring example of how urban architecture can serve not only our cities’ human inhabitants, but also their wild ones.

208 pages | 159 color plates | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Conservation, Ecology, Natural History

Chicago and Illinois


“Hennen, a collections manager at Chicago’s Field Museum who was active in the Illinois recovery effort, tells the story of the peregrine’s resuscitation and newfound residence in midwestern cities. Macnamara’s watercolors of the bird perched on skyscrapers and row houses bring it to life. . . . Hennen skillfully writes for a broad audience—lucidly for readers new to the subject, insightfully for those hoping to learn more.”

Maggie Taft | Booklist

“The book doesn’t just tell the story of the peregrine falcon’s recovery—it also shows how naturally cliff-dwelling birds have made a home in an urban environment. . . . With a thriving population, Hennen says her job now isn’t just focused on recovery—it’s on helping humans coexist with birds of prey that make their home in the city.”

Nick Blumberg | Chicago Tonight

"It is a science story, a success story, a compelling story of community and nature. . . . An exquisite book. . . . This is Chicago at its best. . . . Gorgeous."

Barbara Keer | Splash

“A joy to read. I can’t be the only one who has forgotten how to look up. Whether your heart is heavy with worries or your mind occupied with office bullshit, any cloud of frustration can make downcast eyes a natural state of being. You get through to get through, and any sense of wonder evaporates in such a state of mind. . . . The Peregrine Returns reminds us to look up from time to time to see beyond our cages in order to spot something beautiful. . . . This book is perfect for anyone interested in Chicago, birds, or art, especially if they are younger. Macnamara and Hennen open up about their methods as artist and scientist in the notes and do a wonderful job in their descriptions of the peregrine. This could be a great coffee table book, but perhaps an even better bedside read to close out a hard day and remember all the astounding things happening in Chicago on a biological level.”

Sherry Zhong | Third Coast Review

“This is a book to be handled the way one would handle a peregrine egg—with care. It is obviously a labor of love, and the marriage of science prose with science-based art is a happy one.”

Mike Nowak | The Mike Nowak Show with Peggy Malecki

"In our October 2016 issue, Josh Engel, a research assistant at the Field Museum in Chicago, described the Windy City's recovery program for peregrine falcon. So we were delighted to discover this gem of a book, which dives deep into the story. . . . Written by Hennen, the director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, it features the beguiling watercolors of Macnamara."


"Celebrates the renewal of North American peregrine populations, particularly in Illinois, after a perilous decline that resulted from eggshell thinning triggered by a DDT byproduct. . . . Macnamara's vibrant watercolor-and-ink works are both precise and dreamy, and they pair beautifully with Hennen's thoughtful, detailed text."

Dianne Timblin | American Scientist

“When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring entered our national consciousness more than half a century ago, her urgent message about DDT—and so much more—transformed millions of us into a peaceful army of citizen environmentalists. The eloquent message was that humankind could no longer view the earth as immune to civilization’s destruction of air, water, flora, and fauna. We suddenly realized we had to take responsibility. The Peregrine Returns reveals what that responsibility ultimately looks like. . . . It tells stories that are in turn humorous and tragic. The author and the artist add personal sidebars describing intimate details about technique, personal experiences, and public interaction. The watercolor art is superb and is presented in unique formats such as time lapse and montage. . . . This wonderful book is a gift to those of us who love raptors.”

Richard Judy | Wilson Journal of Ornithology

"Bird experts and nature lovers will be fascinated with The Peregrine Returns. Hennen presents a brief summary of the research into peregrine falcon nesting failure, the decline of the species, and the demise of the birds from the Midwest and the eastern U.S. . . . The design of the book with many excellent watercolor paintings and drawings alternating with short prose chapters is outstanding."

Natural Areas Journal

Table of Contents

By John Bates
Chapter One
Decline of the Peregrines
Chapter Two
Effects of DDT
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Peregrine Life in the City
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Nest Site Selection
Chapter Seven
Nest Fidelity
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Peregrine Dispersal
Chapter Fourteen
Cultural Nest Locations
Chapter Fifteen
Crib Peregrines
Chapter Sixteen
Landmark Buildings
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Industrial Sites
Chapter Nineteen
Three of Chicago’s Eyries
Chapter Twenty
Living with Peregrines
Chapter Twenty-One
Another Opinion
Chapter Twenty-Two
City Wildlife
Chapter Twenty-Three
Not a Peregrine?
Chapter Twenty-Four
Urban Green Space
Chapter Twenty-Five
Bird-Friendly Architecture
Chapter Twenty-Six
Conservation and Natural History Museums
Chapter Twenty-Seven
A Species Recovered

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