Urban Peregrine Falcons
Beginning in the early nineteen sixties the future of the Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus looked very bleak indeed. Organochlorine pesticides and other insidious chemicals were wreaking havoc on the breeding success of this magnificent raptor. Birds were laying thin-shelled eggs which were unable to sustain the weight of the brooding female and wholesale desertion of eyries was occurring. Stated plainly, the species was unable to reproduce – a sure path to extinction. DDT was the primary villain in this saga of bio-accumulation and bio-magnification of pesticide residues.
Rachel Carson was boldly sounding the alarm in her classic work “Silent Spring” and was coming under sustained and perfidious attack from the vested interests of the petro-chemical conglomerates who were profiting hugely from the sale of these noxious substances, even though they clearly posed long-term hazards to human health. Bravely she persevered and DDT was ultimately banned in North America (although it is still used elsewhere in the world).
With significant intervention from a dedicated team of falcon researchers the species slowly recovered. Peregrines had for many years used skyscrapers in cities as suitable substitutes for the remote cliffs they historically frequented as their breeding haunts. This phenomenon appears to be more common than ever and it seems that Peregrine Falcons that fledge successfully in cities return to breed in a similar situation. There is a ready source of food, especially the ubiquitous pigeons and starlings which every city has in abundance.
At the Sun Life Financial Tower in Waterloo a single Peregrine was raised successfully by a dedicated pair of parents and has migrated south for the winter. Many hazards still lie in wait for this young bird (named Sunny, by the way) but we earnestly wish that he will conquer all perils that confront him and return to breed one day.
Without doubt, the whole sequence of events from first hint of nesting to Sunny's first flight, provided many hours of entertainment and not a little education for many people previously unaware of this fastest animal on earth.
Let us all hope that Peregrine Falcons are never again threatened with oblivion. May we share this planet together in harmony, with respect for all living things.
Note: I was never able to get a good photograph and the picture above was taken by Leslie McCollum in Imperial Beach, CA of a falcon about which she wrote a book, that has returned to her neighborhood for five consecutive years. Leslie has a long and dedicated history of working with raptors and has a love not only for them but for every facet of nature, however big or small. I am proud to call her my friend.