National Wildlife Refuge System
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Harold Engsberg
Harold (“Bus”) Engsberg is an institution at Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, where the volunteer has devoted the past 16 of his 91 years to introducing visitors to the wonders of peregrine falcons.
Credit: Bob Reed
falcon in flight
A fast and agile predator that catches its prey in midair, a peregrine falcon demonstrates its wingpower.
Credit: Mike Baird,

Hooked on Falcons

If you want toget Harold ("Bus") Engsberg's attention, now's a good time. Come March you might lose out to the species at the other end of his scope — the one to which he's voluntarily devoted the last 16 of his 91 years. This would be the peregrine falcon, the once-endangered bird of prey that Engsberg watches hour after hour from the cliff-top viewing platform at Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. You'll find him there most days, along with his wife Delena, 65, giving public outreach a personal face.

"Basically, he's a protector of those birds and he educates people about them," says Roy Lowe, manager of the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Cape Meares Refuge. "He does it because it's his love, not because we ask him to."

Engsberg offers visitors a look through his lens and an earful on what makes the falcon such a swift and fearsome predator. "A lot of birds can maneuver and attain great speeds, but nothing equals the peregrine," he says, noting the bird's ability to shift from a cruising speed of 50 miles per hour to a 200-mile-per-hour dive. "They put on some dandy aerial shows. They fly so fast that a lot of people who are not used to observing things like that, they miss a great deal. They can't seem to follow them."

In 2001, the Oregon State Parks honored the Engsbergs for their volunteer work, after they were nominated by the Friends of Cape Meares Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit support group to which they belong.

Once nesting preparations begin, Engsberg is a man possessed. The former logger, surveyor and mink rancher fills notebooks with observations on the falcons' activities and catches some behavior on video, shooting a camcorder through his birding scope. "When there are three or four hatchlings, they have wonderful aerial displays because they have to learn to defend themselves and catch prey in the air to eat, says Engsberg. "There is a long learning process, about six weeks." Delena emails the best images and accounts to a dedicated group of 106 falcon followers.

Why the fascination with falcons, in particular? The birds' grace and intelligence appeal to him, he says. "I didn't start watching birds until I was 75," says Engsberg, who'd heard talk of a reputed falcon nesting area at Cape Meares before he decided that year to check it out. "I'd like to be at it 100 more years. I never get tired of watching them fly."

The peregrine falcon, nearly killed off by DDT exposure, received federal protection as an endangered species in 1970, one of the first species to do so. In 1999, it had recovered enough to be removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The species is still being monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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