For the Birds Radio Program: Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction
(Recording of a Peregrine Falcon)
The fastest bird in the world is back in Minnesota. Every Peregrine Falcon in the United States and Canada east of the Rockies– and much of the rest of the world–was killed off by DDT between World War II and 1962. The only sightings of Peregrines since that time have been in spring and fall as migrants flew over between their South American wintering grounds and the Arctic Tundra–not one nesting Peregrine remained on two-thirds of a continent.
Now all we’d have left would be memories, pictures, and a few stuffed birds in museums, except for two things. First, the United States banned virtually all use of DDT in 1972. Since DDT killed millions of other raptors and songbirds, and was also building up in human tissue, banning it was obviously necessary. But for the Peregrine Falcon it was locking the barn door after the horse had been stolen–all our birds were already dead.
Then, in 1972, Dr. Tom Cade of Cornell University started experimenting with breeding Peregrines in captivity. A few licensed falconers provided Cornell with birds, and soon they were raising peregrines in the laboratory, and developing techniques to release them in the wild. Since then, over 2,000 young Peregrines have been raised and released in the U.S., and 65 pairs are nesting on the eastern seaboard this year. Cornell’s program concentrated on the east, but they did send a few peregrines to Minnesota’s Mississippi River in 1976 and 1977–unfortunately, those birds were all killed by Great Horned Owls.
Then in 1981, Minnesota’s new Non-game Wildlife Checkoff on the state income tax form provided the seed money to begin restoring Peregrines to our state in earnest. The first release, in 1982, was of five young birds at Weaver Dunes, near Kellogg. By last year, 102 falcons had been released in Minnesota, at an average cost of about $2,000 per bird. And this year Peregrines are nesting at three spots along the Mississippi and on top of the Multifoods Building in Minneapolis.
Peregrines have been released for the past three years along Lake Superior’s north shore near Tofte, but returns there have been so poor that this year the project is moving to the Iron Range. The five noisy baby Peregrine Falcons brought up to Virginia last week may soon be joined by five more in hopes that one day Peregrines will be nesting on the cliffs of vacant iron mines of the Mesabi Range. Ornithologists also hope that some of the birds may find their way to the North Shore to nest in the historic nesting sites along the rocky shoreline.
At least one Peregrine has returned this year to the Tofte site, but appears to be alone and is not nesting. If any listeners are aware of nesting falcons, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at KUMD, 130 Humanities Building, University of Minnesota, Duluth, 55812.
(Recording of Peregrines)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”