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Falcons "Adopted" as UMass Lowell River Hawks

Rare Birds Nesting on Campus are Officially Named

Falcons in roof box/Joson Images
A look at the newly upgraded webcam that allows up-close views of UMass Lowell's real-life River Hawks.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or or Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell’s athletics teams and even its mascot, Rowdy, have been known as River Hawks for two decades, a tribute to the birds of various species who, like the university, call the banks of the Merrimack River home.

Today, UMass Lowell officially “adopted” the living embodiment of the River Hawks: a pair of rare peregrine falcons who have nested atop Fox Hall, the university’s largest residence hall and the tallest building in the city of Lowell, each spring since at least 2007 when they were discovered by workers on the roof.

Up until that time, the female falcon had been laying eggs on the cement roof out in the open – the birds do not make typical nests – which made it more difficult for the chicks to survive. Working with the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, UMass Lowell made a nest box and erected a webcam to monitor it in time for the falcons to return the following spring. Earlier this year, the university upgraded the nest box and webcam, which has allowed birding enthusiasts around the country to watch the falcons. The webcam is available at, which also features more information on UMass Lowell’s River Hawks traditions as well as on peregrine falcons.

“UMass Lowell chose the name for its athletics teams, the River Hawks, to signify the importance of the Merrimack River both to the university and to the city of Lowell. The River Hawks symbolize our strength and pride. Today, we are not only adopting the pair of falcons as River Hawks, we are recognizing the importance of the birds to our environment,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan, one of the speakers at today’s “adoption” celebration with students, faculty and staff at the aptly named Hawk’s Nest Café, located a short distance from Fox Hall on UMass Lowell’s East Campus.

Two of just a few dozen pairs of peregrine falcons believed to be living in Massachusetts, the real-life River Hawks are currently nesting atop Fox Hall. Each year, the female falcon lays two to three eggs, and with the male’s help, watches over them as they hatch until they can fly away on their own. Not all of the eggs have hatched over the years, but it is believed the pair has helped increase the number of falcons in the area.

As the birds have returned each spring, so has the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, checking on the falcons and banding their offspring to allow further monitoring once they leave the nest. The division and the MSPCA – both of which participated in today’s event – support the university’s efforts to raise awareness of the falcons and to provide an example of how people can peacefully co-exist with wildlife, even in an urban setting.

“The River Hawk falcon cam is the perfect example of an organization doing everything it can to accommodate wildlife that is benefitting tremendously with access to the nesting box,” said Laura Hagen, the deputy director of MSPCA-Angell. “UMass Lowell is helping this pair contribute mightily to the recovering peregrine falcon population and, as a special bonus, inviting the world to watch. It’s fantastic.”

The symbolic adoption of the birds – which were officially named “Merri” and “Mack” for the Merrimack River over which they nest – celebrates school spirit as well as enhancing understanding of UMass Lowell’s resident falcons.

“The timing for the naming of our real-life River Hawks is an ideal one, as UMass Lowell is reaching new heights, on and off the playing field,” said Dana Skinner, athletic director and event emcee. This is the first academic year during which all of UMass Lowell’s River Hawk sports teams have been in the NCAA’s Division I. The only team previously in Division I, men’s ice hockey, captured its second consecutive Hockey East Tournament championship last month and competed in the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row.

The River Hawks athletics teams are not the only ones flying high. UMass Lowell is moving upward by every measure, from national rankings for academics and return on investment to enrollment to growth of the campus.

UMass Lowell has seen enrollment climb 45 percent since 2007 and is now the second-largest campus in the University of Massachusetts system. As enrollment has grown, the academic profile of new students has also shifted upward, including a 63-point gain in the average SAT score and in average high-school GPA, up from 3.18 to 3.36. UMass Lowell also received approval recently to upgrade its honors program to a full-fledged honors college.

UMass Lowell’s research expenditures have grown 69 percent to $63 million and the endowment is up from $37 million to $66.1 million. Since 2009, the university has opened eight new buildings, including six that are newly constructed: state-of-the art academic facilities such as the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center and the Health and Social Sciences Building, along with two new all-suites residence halls and two parking garages.

Ranked among the top national universities by U.S. News & World Report for the first time four years ago, UMass Lowell’s three-year gain of 25 points is the second-fastest in the country. The university is also one of U.S. News’ top 100 public universities in the United States. ranks UMass Lowell among the top public colleges and universities in the nation for return on investment by students and first among New England public research universities for graduates’ mid-career salaries. Forbes magazine ranks UMass Lowell – one of only two New England institutions to make the list – among its 25 Best Value Colleges.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, engineering, education, fine arts, health, humanities, liberal arts, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.