Department of the Interior
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office
2800 Cottage Way, W-2605
Sacramento CA 95825
For Release: August 20, 1999 Contact: Cindy Hoffman - 202/208-3008
The Peregrine Falcon Is Back!
Babbitt Announces Removal of
World's Fastest Bird From Endangered Species List
Today, the world's fastest bird soars off of the endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the peregrine falcon from the list of
endangered and threatened species, marking one of the most dramatic success stories of the
Endangered Species Act.
"It's a spectacular summer for America's great birds, the bald eagle, the Aleutian
Canada goose and today the peregrine falcon," said the Secretary of the Interior,
Bruce Babbitt. "And beneath the wings of all their recovery stands America's great
law: the Endangered Species Act."
The peregrine once ranged throughout much of North America from the subarctic boreal
forests of Alaska and Canada south to Mexico. A medium-sized raptor, the falcon nests on
tall cliffs or urban skyscrapers and hunts other birds for food, reaching speeds of 200
miles an hour as it dives after its prey. While those nesting in the lower latitudes
migrate shorter distances, if at all, peregrines nesting in Alaska and Canada are well
known for their long spring and fall flights to and from wintering areas in Latin and
The bird's remarkable speed and agility, however, could do nothing to prevent its sharp
decline after World War II when widespread use of the pesticide DDT and other
organocholorine pesticides decimated populations. The pesticide DDT caused peregrines to
lay thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers confirmed the link between DDT and egg shell
thinning on peregrines in the United States. Rachel Carson, a former Service employee,
helped alert the public to the hazards of pesticides on wildlife in 1962 when she
published her book Silent Spring. Ten years later, the Environmental Protection Agency
made the historic and, at the time, controversial decision to ban the use of DDT in the
United States, which was the first step on the road to recovery for the peregrine.
In 1970, the Service listed the peregrine falcon as endangered under the Endangered
Species Conservation Act of 1969, the predecessor of the current law, when the population
in the eastern United States had completely disappeared and populations in the west had
declined by as much as 80 to 90 percent below historical levels. By 1975, the population
reached an all-time low of 324 nesting pairs in North America.
The banning of DDT made the recovery of the peregrine falcon possible. But the
protections provided by the Endangered Species Act and the extraordinary partnership
efforts of the Service and state wildlife agencies, universities, private ornithological
groups, and falcon enthusiasts accelerated the pace of recovery through captive breeding
programs, reintroduction efforts and the protection of nest sites during the breeding
season. Similar efforts took place in Canada, where the Canadian Wildlife Service and
provincial agencies took the lead in a major captive breeding and reintroduction program.
Currently, there are at least 1,650 peregrine breeding pairs in the United States and
Canada, well above the overall recovery goal of 631 pairs.
"The peregrine falcon is a perfect example of the success we can have when we work
in partnership to recover endangered species," said Secretary Babbitt. "With the
help of the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, and the visionary work in
captive breeding and release efforts by The Peregrine Fund, the University of Minnesota's
Raptor Center and the University of California's Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group,
the peregrine flies through the skies of almost every state in the Union."
The peregrine falcon joins the southeastern population of the brown pelican, the
American alligator, the Rydberg milk-vetch, and the gray whale as graduates of the
endangered species list.
Overall, government and private raptor experts have reintroduced more than 6,000
falcons into the wild since 1974. Some of the reintroductions took place in urban areas
after researchers discovered that the falcons have successfully adapted to nesting on
skyscrapers where they can hunt pigeons and starlings.
The peregrine will continue to be protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The MBTA
prohibits the taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory
birds, their eggs, parts, and nests except when specifically authorized by the Interior
Department, such as in the case of regulated hunting seasons for game birds.
The Service has continued the prohibition on the take of peregrines for all purposes until
management guidelines are developed in coordination with the States. The Office of
Migratory Birds has issued a letter to all affected permit holders to alert them of this
amendment to their permits. The Service is working with the states to develop management
plans for the take of peregrines for falconry purposes.
In addition, the Service will work with state wildlife agencies, conservation
organizations and others to monitor the status of the species. The Endangered Species Act
requires that a species be monitored for a minimum of 5 years after delisting. The Service
has decided to monitor the peregrine falcon for 13 years with surveys occurring once every
3 years, allowing for 5 surveys, to provide data that will reflect the status of at least
two generations of peregrines. If it becomes evident during this period that the bird
again needs the Act's protection, the Service would relist the species.
State wildlife agencies also played a fundamental role in the recovery process by
protecting nesting habitat, carrying out releases, and monitoring populations within their
"The recovery of the peregrine has been a model of partnership in the conservation
and recovery of an endangered species," Babbitt said. "I hope that the success
of the peregrine will inspire other communities to come together to protect and recover
other vulnerable species."
The Service's decision to delist the peregrine falcon will be available for public
inspection at the Federal Register on August 20, 1999.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for
conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the
continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre
National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges,
thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66
national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices, and 78
ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers
the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally
significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps
foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid
program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and
hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
**Editors' note: B-roll and still photographs of peregrine falcons
are available. Interviews with Service employees and other pioneers in
the falconry community are also available. Press materials are available
on the Service's website at www.fws.gov