The eager crowd burst with excitement as Tom French of MassWildlife pulled a chirping, and undeniably adorable peregrine falcon chick from a cloth tote bag. The bird was about the size of a football and its downy white feathers looked like soft fur.

“It’s about three, three and a half weeks old,” French said as he held the chick at his side. “You can see the feathers are just starting to come out, but they still are not nearly unfurled enough for it to fly. And it’ll fly at about seven weeks.”

The chick’s face was gray, with large black eyes and a curved white beak. This falcon and three others hatched about three and a half weeks ago in a nest on the 25th floor of the old administrative offices of the Christian Science church, which is now an office building in downtown Boston.

A woman holds up a baby falcon in her hands. The chick is white and fluffy.
Rebecca Quinones of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program holds a peregrine falcon chick that was banded at the downtown building where its family nested
Craig LeMoult GBH News

“Normally they will be found in kind of sandy cliffs areas,” said Rebecca Quiñones of the state’s natural heritage and endangered species program. “But they’ve done very well in cities. They like high areas where they can nest. You see them in bridges, you see them in skyscrapers.”

Peregrine falcons had largely disappeared from the region by the 1970s as a result of the insecticide DDT, which hindered their ability to lay healthy eggs. Their recovery now is a rare example of a conservation success story.

“We started to try to restore peregrine falcons and bald eagles and other things impacted by DDT,” said French. “Our first nest was in 1986 and we’re now up to about 45 nesting pairs.”

The state wildlife officials have taken these chicks from their nest so they can attach an ID band around each one’s leg.

“The banding tells us a variety of things,” French explained. “First of all, it makes us go to the nest to see what’s going on. How many chicks? What sexes? But then the bands tell us where do they go? Because birdwatchers photograph them. If they get hit by a car, we get them picked up and the band gets read. And we also know how long they live.”

As he held a chick, its repeated cry sounded a bit distressed.

“It’s a little hacked off, yeah,” French said. “It’s more angry than frightened. And they get over it immediately. The parents don’t care a bit that we’ve handled them. They own the nest.”

In fact, on this day the wildlife officials were adding one chick to the nest that was being relocated from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. Falcons will raise any bird they find in their nest, French explained.

The male at this downtown nest had been here before, but the female was new, so the team put a band on her leg, too. As he banded her, Norman Smith, the director of the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, quizzed the crowd gathered in the lobby.

What’s the fastest animal in the world?”

This crowd knew: The peregrine falcon.

“Yeah. How fast can they fly?’ he asked.

The answer: “It’s been documented at 242 miles an hour,” Smith said. “That’s fast.”

When all the banding was done, a much smaller group took the elevator up 25 stories and stepped out onto the balcony to return the falcons to their nest.

A man wearing a baseball cap is stands with a falcon, wings open, in his hands. The Boston skyline is visible behind them.
Norman Smith of the Blue Hills Trailside Museum gets ready to release a female peregrine falcon that he and other wildlife officials just banded
Craig LeMoult GBH News

As French put on a safety harness and climbed onto the ledge where the nest is, the male falcon kept zipping by, keeping an eye on what was happening.

These chicks will be ready to fly in about a month. Those first few days of flying are the most dangerous, French said. Like teenagers, he said, they don’t always know when to use the breaks. But if they can get past that, he said, they have a good chance of surviving to be adults and having nests of their own — maybe even here in Boston.