For the Birds Radio Program: Peregrine Reintroduction

Original Air Date: July 16, 1986

Laura talks about a promising program that may end up bringing Peregrine Falcons back to healthy population levels.

Audio missing


![Peregrine Falcon] ( “Peregrine Falcon”)

Peregrine Release

(Recording of a Peregrine Falcon)

The story of the Peregrine Falcon in Minnesota and Wisconsin is the story of a mass murderer. Every single Peregrine Falcon in the midwest and the eastern United States was killed off between the 1940’s and the 1960’s. The villain was DDT. This pesticide, which was heavily sprayed over agricultural and urban areas indiscriminately in the 50’s to get rid of mosquitoes, collected in the fatty tissues of robins and eagles and falcons. Thousands–maybe millions–of these birds died while migrating–their system was overwhelmed by poison when they used up their fatty reserves. But the real effect of DDT was more insidious–it messed up birds’ breeding physiology. The most obvious problem was in egg-laying. As DDT built up in the tissues of a female bird, the shells of the eggs she layed became thinner and thinner–until the eggs could not support her weight. When she’d try to incubate them, they’d splatter apart. DDT also affected nesting behavior and subtle physiological systems–enough to make it obvious to virtually everybody that DDT simply didn’t belong in the United States. It was Richard Nixon who banned it in 1972.

And like Nixon, during the last decade DDT has pretty much disappeared from the American scene. But it looked like the Peregrine Falcon was gone forever–that is until Cornell University started experimenting with hand-rearing baby Peregrines in the 1970’s. They developed techniques for breeding Peregrine chicks in captivity. They discovered that adult Peregrines lay three and even four times as many eggs as normal when eggs are removed from the nest one by one–and then the Cornell ornithologists learned how to hand-rear the chicks in a special structure, using hand-puppets that looked like adult falcons to feed the babies, so the chicks wouldn’t become tamed. By the early 80’s, falcon offspring of this program were again breeding in the east.

But the Peregrine Falcon were still lost to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Every spring and fall, a few individuals would be seen migrating over, on their way up to the tundra, although none bred here. But the story has a happy ending. The Bell Museum of Natural History, down in Minneapolis, along with the Minnesota Nature Conservancy, local Audubon Societies, the U.S. Forest Service, and a host of volunteers, started a re-introduction program in southeastern Minnesota in 1976, using the techniques developed at Cornell. In 1984, that program spread to the north shore, when five Peregrine chicks were released near Tofte. Last year seven were released, and this year six more were added. Two of these releases were seen in Duluth last winter, feeding on pigeons in the harbor and downtown. This magnificent raptor may soon be a regular sight again in our area.

(Recording of a Peregrine Falcon)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”