Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peregrine Nation

Thursday, March 24, 2011
Once upon a time, when a bird watcher flipped through the raptor pages of his or her field guide, the image of the peregrine falcon probably engendered wistful and wishful feelings. Despite the fact that the peregrine is one of the most widely distributed raptors worldwide, in North America it has been an endangered species for as long as most of can remember. This was due to the lingering effects of DDT and other chemical toxins in the food chain, which inhibited the falcon's reproductive success.

A number of recovery efforts for this species—mainly hacking peregrine chicks into protected human-made nest sites–has succeeded beyond expectation. With the happy result that the American peregrine falcon was taken off the Endangered Species List in 1999.

Today we find peregrine falcons nesting in places where they never existed. Indeed this has been the subject of great debate among birders, wildlife managers, and both government and NGO biologists. Is it OK to put a super predator into a habitat where it never naturally occurred? For example: a peregrine nesting tower built in a vast, flat, coastal marsh which has chicks fledge successfully from it is likely to be where at least one of those chicks returns to nest. And when it does it begins to prey upon the local colony of least terns or piping plovers—two other federally endangered species. Depending on the location and landscape, historically such a habitat would only have passing visits from migrant peregrines.

And what if the local great horned owl comes by the peregrine tower and starts making owl pellets out of the peregrine nestlings? Big dilemma.

Setting aside the bio-ethical dilemma for un momentito, I have to say that I LOVE seeing peregrine falcons on a more regular basis. We even have them nesting on a bridge over the Ohio River between Belpre, Ohio and Parkersburg, WV. And in this area, my guess is that the falcons are living primarily on a diet of rock pigeon—which we have in abundance.

Last Friday as we were leaving a rather somber event in Parkersburg, I spotted a big female peregrine flying between buildings, heading away from the river. She landed on a six-story bank building and began to call. Within minutes her mate swooped in carrying food, landed briefly, then both birds took to the sky. What a thrill!

One of the birds landed on the Wood County courthouse and began drinking (we hypothesized) from a rain puddle on the roof. My guess is that this is the pair of adults that nested under the bridge last year, raising three birds to fledging.

Atop the Wood County, WV courthouse.

On my recent Bohemian waxwing adventure, I spied this peregrine in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, perched on a hospital.
Grand Rapids, Michigan peregrine falcon.

Many middle-to-large Midwestern cities now have a resident breeding pair of peregrine falcons. There are scores of falcon web-cams documenting the private lives of these aerial masters. As bird watchers, I would imagine that most of us are happy to see this impressive raptor. We have become, if you will, a peregrine nation.

I just hope that, when I leave this mortal coil, I'm not reincarnated as a rock pigeon in Parkersburg, WV.


On March 24, 2011 at 3:29 PM Kathie Brown said...

Bill, I saw and photographed this species many times in SE Arizona where I was living and where I hope to return to later on this year. How wonderful to see it on its way back and thriving!

On March 24, 2011 at 5:52 PM Jason Kessler said...

Several weeks ago, as I approached my midtown Manhattan office for what was anticipated to be a long, long day, a loud chattering whipped my head up in time to see two Peregrines squabbling about 15 stories up, right over my building.

Certainly put a delightful spin on a now-not-quite-so-gruesome a day...

On March 31, 2011 at 3:07 PM Bird House Country said...

I live in Utah. Are Peregrine's indigenous in these parts? I used to see them in Texas but not since moving to Salt Lake.