When our librarians discover a new online source I immediately put in the word “Schaumburg” and see what pops up. Recently, I tried the beta version of the Internet Archive Scholar and found this delightful mention in a 1919 issue of The AUK: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology by The American Ornithologists’ Union.
“Falco spaxverius sparverius. SPARROW HAWK.- This handsome
little falcon is by no means common here, either as migrant or summer
resident. In the territory that I visit I know of only three or four breeding
pairs, one in some big elms on the banks of the Des Plaines River, and two
pair at Schaumburg, Cook County, where the parent pair nests year after
year in a small wooden pinnacle or turret over a buttress in the Lutheran
church, and the other in a chimney near by. March 25, 1911, I saw one
dart around among the flocks of Calcarius lapponicus, then in the fields at
Addison, causing a great panic among them, but as long as I watched he
did not catch any.”
The siting was noted in an article by C.W.G. Eifrig in his Notes on Birds of the Chicago Area and Its Immediate Vicinity.
Mr. Eifrig came with his family from Germany in 1878. He eventually became a German Lutheran pastor and then, teacher, at the Addison Teacher’s Seminary in Addison, Illinois in 1909. He taught biology and nature studies, writing numerous articles for publications and was an active member of various ornithological and mammal societies. His contributions were so noteworthy that his papers were donated to the Chicago Academy of Sciences and are housed at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago.
Seeking all types of birds and mammals obviously took him all over the Chicago area including Schaumburg Township. It is here that, thanks to his Lutheran background and our proximity to Addison, he most likely became familiar with the Lutheran churches in our township. In 1919, as today, they were St. Peter Lutheran Church and St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Because he discussed the pairs of sparrow hawks nesting in a buttress of the church, we have to suspect that he was referring to St. Peter’s. Buttresses are, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, an “exterior support, usually of masonry… [that] allowed for the creation in masonry of the high-ceilinged, heavy-walled churches typical of the Gothic style.” The 1863 St. Peter Lutheran Church is known as a Gothic style church.
The two pair of sparrow hawks at St. Peter Lutheran Church was obviously unusual for Pastor Eifrig in 1919 but, sightings of them today are not. Falco spaxverius sparverius is the formal term for sparrow hawk but these colorful birds are more commonly called the American kestrel. In the Birds of Illinois Field Guide by Stan Tekiela, he not only notes that these birds can be found year round in Illinois but, also, it was “formerly called ‘Sparrow Hawk’ due to its small size.”
He also notes that these birds find a “cavity” to raise their young, without building a nest within the cavity. Obviously, the “small wooden pinnacle or turret” was the perfect spot for these kestrels. The surrounding open farmland was also the perfect spot for the “insects, small mammals and birds” that kestrels like to eat.
It is certainly not impossible to imagine Teacher Eifrig paying a visit to Pastor Gottlob Theiss at St. Peter’s in the 1910s and spotting the kestrels flying in and out of their nest tucked into the church.
You can almost hear their conversation now, in German, of course:
Teacher Eifrig, looking up: “My God, there’s a sparrow hawk flying into your church!”
Pastor Theiss, also looking up: “Ah, yes, we see them every year. There are two pair.”
Teacher Eifrig: “Two pair! I’ve only seen one other pair and that was along the Des Plaines River!”
Pastor Theiss: “Yes, they like to build their nest in the church.”
Teacher Eifrig: “You must tell me if you see any young. And if they come back next year. This is such an exciting find!”
Even though Teacher Eifrig moved to River Forest in 1913 with the Addison Teachers Seminary when it became the Concordia Teachers College, he clearly took notes on the sparrow hawks of Schaumburg Township and felt it was necessary to include them in his article of 1919.
The birds may be common in Illinois but not in my backyard. I’m wondering if any of you have seen an American kestrel flying or nesting in Schaumburg Township? Report back if you have…
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library