Friday, August 5, 2011

The Return of the Peregine Falcon

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a land where almost no peregrine falcons flew. It was called the eastern United States. A chemical, called DDT was used in the 1950s to kill mosquitoes which were responsible for much of the spread of the disease malaria. After malaria was brought into check in the 1960s, farmers began to use DDT as an insecticide for their fields. Little did people know that DDT was traversing the food chain and building up in the system of many birds. The DDT did not hurt the birds directly but it did make the shells of their eggs so thin that when the birds would incubate the eggs most of them would break.

The peregrine falcon was one of the birds that was affected by DDT. By the time DDT was banned in 1972 the peregrine falcon had all but disappeared from its range in the eastern half of the United States, including Minnesota. In the mid 1970s the Peregrine Fund began to release peregrines back into the wild. Using eggs from captive falconry birds the Peregrine Fund was able to use hack boxes to feed and protect the young birds with no human contact while they learned to fly and become independent. In 1982 the Midwest Peregrine Society began to release peregrines back into Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest as well as south central Canada.
Because of the efforts of the Peregrine Fund and Midwest Peregrine Society, as well as many other organization that supported the cause, in 1987 peregrines were able to successfully nest again east of the Mississippi River for the first time since the 1960s. The recovery continued over the 80s and 90s until the peregrine was removed from the endangered species list in 1999. With the peregrine population increasing on its own the Midwest Peregrine Society quit releasing birds into the wild and turned most of their resources to monitoring and studying the peregrine population that they helped to restore.
Each year volunteers from the Midwest Peregrine Society monitor nest locations. They watch the falcons so that they can see which birds nest where and which ones are successful at hatching eggs. When the chicks are the proper age, usually the end of June or beginning of July, the Midwest Peregrine Society goes to the nest box to band the chicks. Since the natural habitat of peregrines are cliffs most nest are located in out of the way places. Many of the artificial nest boxes are located on skyscrapers, smoke stacks or in this case the wall of a dam on the Mississippi River.

Banding can be a tricky task. Adult peregrines are not fond of humans at their nest. If you are lucky the parents just fly around close by over head and scream at what they view as invaders. In some cases some of the more territorial birds will even come at a bander talons first to protect their young. The chicks are banded as quickly and safely as possible and then returned to the nest. In the end the peregrines are the victors because they have driven away the invaders and protected their young.
I had the privilege of photographing the peregrines while they were banded at the Ford Damn last year. The pair hatched and raised 3 chicks, which kept them busy bringing food back to the nest. The last picture is one of the chicks just before its first flight. It took a period of 3 weeks to go from the white puff balls of the first pictures to a fledged immature peregrine falcon.


GW Bill Miller said...

Excellant post. Thank you for all you do.

VioletSky-Sightlines said...

We have peregrines nesting here in Hamilton and I watch the falconcam obsessively from March until they start flying. Wonderful creatures. And these are amazing pics.

Kay L. Davies said...

Wonderful photos. So nice to hear of a species coming back after DDT damage.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

ladyfi said...

What marvellous birds!

Twiggy said...

Thank you for sharing. Such a beautiful and elegant bird. It's nice to know that they didn't disappear for good.

Cheryl said...

Wow! Amazing story of their reentry into the wild. Beautiful captures of some gorgeous birds.

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

Great post!

Victoria said...

Came to your blog by way of Macro Monday... Scrolled down the page and spotted this post. Marvelous images and a wonderful narrative too!

Anonymous said...

by the way, Peregrines are the fastest known fliers. I'm so glad they were saved.

Awesome post