Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Imagine an animal that is four feet wide, and can exceed speeds of up to 200 mph. Imagine this animal having knife-like claws and excellent eyesight, appearing out of nowhere to capture a small bird out of the air and convey it to a nearby rock cliff. Imagine an animal that that swoops and somersaults like an Air Force jet going through maneuvers in order to attract a mate.
It’s a terrifying and fantastic image, isn’t it? Such an animal seems powerful and invulnerable to human activities on the ground. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Even the most deadly bird of prey starts out encased in a delicate egg, and the Peregrine Falcon is no different. As documented by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring, these amazing birds were almost wiped in the mid-twentieth century, when DDT and other pesticides worked their way through the ground, into the water, and up the food chain, finally ending up in the shells of peregrine falcons and other birds of prey. The shells became brittle and populations plunged fasted than a diving falcon. Fewer and fewer birds successfully reproduced each year, until they were designated endangered in 1970.
Fortunately, with the help of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the birds were able to pull out of the plunge just before a catastrophic crash. In 1984, a captive breeding and reintroduction program was started in North Carolina. Ninety-two birds were “hacked,” meaning released into the wild after being bred in captivity. The program continued until 1994 and was very successful. About 10-13 mating pairs of the birds are tallied annually in Western North Carolina. “The peregrine falcon is an endangered species success story,” remarked Chris Kelly, a biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (fs.usda.gov).
This success has been a community effort, due not just to the efforts of the breeding and reintroduction program. The Commission has worked closely with rock climbers, educating them about the perilous position of these birds and convincing climbers to stay away from rock faces where falcons are nesting. Once a pair has been spooked from its nest, it cannot return or relocate and a hard-earned reproductive year will be lost. Many birds have been protected by the willingness to coexist on the part of the climbers. This story holds a great message for the possibility of human and nonhuman interests to align to meet conservation goals.