Doing my job

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June 28, 2004 // UPDATED 2:18 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Garrett Robertson
Garrett Robertson

Bud 'the Birdman' Tordoff

'Falconer'

33 South 6th Street of the City Center

On the 50th floor of the 33 South 6th Street building of the City Center, there is a residential loft with free parking, a small balcony and a beautiful Downtown view. Residents don't pay an arm and a leg for this spot -- in fact, they don't pay anything at all.

The catch? You have to be a peregrine falcon.

For the past 22 years, Bud "the Birdman" Tordoff has visited the peregrine falcon nests scattered across Downtown and the state, attaching metal bands to chicks' legs so they can be tracked at www.midwestperegrine.umn.edu.

The Birdman and his assistants also occasionally take falcon blood samples and observe mature falcons and their young.

The 50th-floor nest is readily accessible; Tordoff takes a service elevator to the top, walks through a huge vent and onto a lookout, opens a nest door and grabs four squawking 21-day-old chicks. He placed them in the cardboard box, and brought them down the elevator to the street-level atrium.

There, two Raptor Center assistants and about 30 curious onlookers met him.

Looking at one of the falcon chicks, the Birdman said, "You're next."

Although chick claws are almost an inch long, their feet aren't strong enough to cause much pain, said Jane Goggin, the Raptor Center's rehabilitation coordinator. Beaks are another matter, and Goggin showed off hand wounds to prove it.

One person from the City Center crowd asked the Birdman what the parents do while their young are tagged. Tordoff said, "The parents are flying around up there mad as hell looking for them."

The crowd leaned over the table to get a look at the four baby males, trying to figure out which was Terry, or R.T., or Walter, or MPR2. Said Tordoff, "The names came from people at City Center, the Raptor Center, or from some generous donor. It's actually a bad idea to name them; most nonscience people just want to know what to call the chicks."

The four chicks will stay with their parents for about three more weeks and will be independent about a month later.

Tordoff usually knows which falcons reside in each nest, but this year a new and untagged pair of falcons moved into the City Center perch.

"I probably visit each nest a couple dozen times per season. I like to come to the City Center because they let me park for free," he said.

Tordoff helped build the City Center nest in 1986; it was occupied a year later. There is a second Downtown nest atop City Hall, which has been used for five years, Tordoff said. Future Downtown nests are "unlikely," he added. "The falcons are very territorial, and a new nest would not likely succeed."

Building Downtown nests were not a huge leap of faith, said Tordoff, a retired University of Minnesota professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. "These birds have been nesting in this area long before these building were built; all the way back to the 1950s. They usually nest on top of cliffs, but the Downtown nests work just fine for them."

When asked if he can easily get to all the local falcon nests, Tordoff replied, "Unfortunately no. There is a nest in the middle of the St. Cloud Prison and the guards are always wondering what I'm doing there."

According to Tordoff, only between 10 and 15 percent of falcons live long enough to breed.

The former director of the U's Bell Museum of Natural History earned the school's "Outstanding Community Service Award" in 2000 for promoting species preservation and conservation.

When he finished taking blood samples and tagging the final chick, Tordoff said to the crowd, "That's it... science marches on."

Tordoff retraced his steps to the 50th floor and released the falcons into the only wild they know -- the urban wild.