For the Birds Radio Program: Peregrine release update

Original Air Date: April 29, 1988

Richard Nixon was one of the people who helped bring Peregrine Falcons back to Minnesota. Huh?!

Duration: 4′11″


Peregrine Release Program

(Recording of a Peregrine Falcon)

Peregrine Falcons are back in the Northland, thanks to Cornell University, the Raptor Research and Rehabilitation Project at the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and …Richard Nixon? Yep–even good old Tricky Dick played a part in the return of the Peregrine. The whole reason this species was extirpated from the Eastern United States and much of Europe, and remains endangered worldwide, is because of D.D.T. This insecticide, developed during World War II and responsible for controlling malaria in much of the tropics, turned out to be extremely toxic to animals other than mosquitoes. As more and more birds were found dead in the wake of neighborhood spraying projects, Americans became alarmed. After all, birds have a faster rate of metabolism than man, but there are many common elements in our physiologies. What kills birds in a matter of days could well be poisoning human beings, too—just more slowly. The chemical companies that produced D.D.T. fought hard to maintain their profits at the expense of both the natural environment and human health. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring came out in 1962, and yet it took a full decade before D.D.T. was banned by the United States federal government in 1972. Wisconsin banned it in 1970. Richard Nixon was president then, and in spite of the fact that he supported the chemical companies on the issue, he could hardly ignore the overwhelming public support for legislation to ban use of the lethal chemical within our borders. Even today, some U.S. chemical companies continue to manufacture D.D.T. for use outside the country. And additional D.D.T. seeps into our waters and land as a chemical by-product of another pesticide in common use, dicofol. So although we’ve come a long way since the 50’s and 60’s, we still have a long way to go.

Things looked bleak once the Peregrines were gone from the eastern U.S. But then researchers at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology figured out how to breed captive Peregrines belonging to falconers. And they quickly learned how to maximize production. Like most birds, peregrines lay a new clutch of eggs if something happens to their first clutch. So after laying one complete set of eggs, the scientists would snatch the eggs and the peregrines would start all over. That allowed the researchers to get twice as many young from their breeding birds.

The next step was to learn techniques for restoring captive bred peregrines to the wild. Since the projects started in the east, that’s where the first years’ restoration projects began, but by the early 1980’s there were surplus birds available for the central states. Minnesota’s first releases were at the Weaver Dunes and in Minneapolis, but in 1985 and 1986 young peregrines were also released on the North Shore up near Tofte and in 1987 in Virginia.

The success of these releases is not known yet. One of the biggest problems facing Peregrine Falcon researchers is following these releases once they leave their hacking area. The only way we can learn whether they return to the North Shore is by watching cliffs for several hours each to see if a Peregrine shows up. The U.S. Forest Service is looking for a few good men and women who don’t mind stepping out of the fast lane for a few hours to cliff watch. May __ has been set aside as official cliff-watching day. Cliff-watching is a nice way to become reacquainted with your children or that significant other who in the bird world would be referred to as your mate. If you’d like to spend at least three hours sitting on the shore watching for Peregrines, let me know. I’ll be happy to get you in touch with one of the Forest Service guys coordinating this worthwhile project. Do yourself a favor and get involved.

(Recording of a Peregrine Falcon)

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