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World's Fastest Bird Continues to Rebound
Date Posted: October 10, 2006When the American peregrine falcon soared off the list of endangered species in 1999, the bird's recovery from near extinction in North America was hailed as a tremendous conservation success story. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released monitoring results showing that the bird's recovery continues at an impressive pace. Questions & Answers
The results from the first nationwide monitoring effort to measure the peregrine falcon's recovery put the number of nesting pairs in North America at about 3,000 - nearly 10 times the number estimated in 1970 when the bird was first protected as an endangered species and considerably more than the roughly 1,800 breeding pairs estimated in 1999, when the peregrine was declared recovered and was de-listed. "This incredible bird continues to thrive," said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. "We've been amazed at the peregrine's ability to adapt, especially to urban situations where they nest on buildings, bridges and even smokestacks."
In the Northeast and Mid-west, two-thirds of peregrine falcons nest on man-made structures. In other areas, more than 90 percent of peregrine pairs nest on natural formations such as cliffs.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall credited the recovery of the peregrine to the ban on the use of the pesticide DDT, protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, and the extraordinary partnership efforts of the Service and state wildlife agencies, universities, private organizations and falcon enthusiasts. These partnerships greatly accelerated the pace of recovery through captive breeding programs, reintroduction efforts and the protection of nest sites during the breeding season. Simultaneous efforts also took place in Canada.
Like the recovery effort, the successful monitoring program is also the result of partnerships. In 2003, the first year of post-delisting monitoring, more than 300 observers - many representatives from the same partners who supported the recovery effort - monitored 438 peregrine falcon territories across six regions. Surveyed areas included the Northeast/Great Lakes, Southeast, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific and Alaska. "This monitoring effort was unprecedented and would not have been possible without the help of partners across the nation who provided invaluable time and expertise," Director Hall said. "I thank them all." Peregrine falcons are found in 41 of the 50 U.S. states. They do not breed in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota or West Virginia.
A second round of post-delisting monitoring was done this year, and preliminary results indicate that the peregrine population continues to grow. Final results and analyses from 2006 will be published in a report in the summer of 2007. Monitoring will continue in 2009, 2012 and 2015, and monitoring of contaminant levels in eggs and feathers will be reported in the future as well.
The Endangered Species Act requires five years of monitoring for species removed from the list of endangered and threatened species to ensure that populations remain strong. The Service decided to monitor the peregrine falcon five times over a span of 13 years in order to provide data reflecting the status of peregrines over three or four generations. Peregrines begin breeding at about age 3.
A medium-size raptor, the peregrine falcon nests on tall cliffs and urban skyscrapers and hunts other birds for food, reaching speeds of 200 miles an hour as they dive after prey. The bird's remarkable speed and agility, however, could not prevent its sharp decline after World War II, when widespread use of the pesticide DDT and other organochlorine pesticides decimated populations. The pesticide DDT caused peregrines to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation.
By the late 1960s, the American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) had disappeared completely from the eastern United States and the Midwest, and its numbers had dropped by almost 90 percent in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. One of the first species to be listed by the U.S. government for protection, the peregrine historically ranged throughout much of North America from the sub-arctic boreal forests of Alaska and Canada south to Mexico.
During the recovery effort, more than 6,000 peregrine falcons were released into the wild by government and private raptor specialists. Some of the reintroductions took place in urban areas after researchers discovered that the falcons can successfully adapt to nesting on skyscrapers and other urban structures where they hunt abundant pigeons and starlings.