Today, peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers and smokestacks in citiesall around the Great Lakes. It’s the result of a successful effort tobring the birds back from the brink of extinction, after they werenearly wiped out by the insecticide DDT. Peregrines still have notreturned to all their old wild habitat, but that’s starting to change.This summer for the first time in 40 years, peregrine falcons arenesting and raising young in one of their traditional strongholds– thecliffs along the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin, andnorthern Iowa. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Losure reports:
Today, peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers and smokestacks in cities all
around the Great Lakes. It’s the result of a successful effort to bring the
birds back from the brink of extinction, after they were nearly wiped out by
the insecticide DDT.
Peregrines still have not returned to all their old wild habitat, but
that’s starting to change.
This summer for the first time in 40 years, peregrine falcons are nesting
and raising young in one of their traditional strongholds— the cliffs
along the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Iowa.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Losure reports.
(Sound of traffic whizzing by)
The traffic is heavy on highway 61 along the
Mississippi River south of Winona, but retired
University of Minnesota biologist Bud Tordoff ignores it.
He strides along the shoulder carrying a tripod and high powered spotting scope.
He sets them up and aims at the sheer rock cliffs about a quarter mile in the distance.
They rise like fortresses from the wooded bluffs along the river.
“Well, let me just see what’s up there first.”
Within seconds, he has a mother peregrine in his sights.
“There’s the falcon.”
She’s perched on a dead tree, so far away she’s invisible to the naked eye, but Tordoff knows where to find her.
He’s spent his life studying peregrine falcons.
For almost 30 years Tordoff has been one of the leaders of the effort to bring them back to the Midwest.
In the mid 1970’s, he and his colleagues tried releasing captive bred birds from Mississippi cliffs.
But those efforts met with disaster.
Tordoff believes great horned owls killed the baby falcons.
“The early nestlings, they never got beyond about three weeks; as
soon as they started getting conspicuous, they vanished. At both places we
climbed to band them, you put band on them about three weeks of age, only to find at one place the chicks had disappeared overnight, and the other, the remains of one dead chick and two others that disappeared the next couple of nights.”
Peregrines were so scarce that Tordoff and his coworkers were afraid to risk any more birds on the cliffs.
So instead, they began releasing them from skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and from power plant smokestacks along the Mississippi.
There, peregrines built up their numbers.
Now, young birds looking for a place to nest are starting to do what earlier generations couldn’t when there were so few peregrines.
On their own, they’re taking back the old, wild strongholds on the cliffs.
“I’ll show you the nest ledge. If there’s a still an active
next, it’s back down in there behind that ledge you’re looking at. See the
dropping of whitewash from the birds that have been perched there? Little white
marks? When the female went back into it last time I was here, she went clean out of sight. So if there are chicks they’re probably in there somewhere.”
Tordoff trains his spotting scope on the ledge and waits patiently, he knows the birds have nested, but not whether any chicks have survived.
“There’s the chick! It looks like it’s about 33, 34 days old. Take
a look. On the left hand side of the ledge.”
It’s an unglamorous heap of whitish down and dark feathers, hunkered down
uncertainly, but it marks a milestone in peregrine conservation.
It’s taken nearly 30 years and 14 million dollars to bring the peregrine back.
Critics questioned spending so much time and money on one species, when so many others were in trouble. But Tordoff never wavered.
“If you want a better world, you’ve got to start somewhere. What
are you going to do if you don’t start something you can handle. Everybody has their own special interest, and you work on the things that interest you, I think that’s just human nature. (why did they interest you so much?) I just like birds, I’ve always liked birds. I’ve been an ornithologist my whole adult
life, and peregrines are just about one of the most spectacular of birds.
When they were gone they were sorely missed, and getting them back just seems
This summer, peregrine falcons have nested successfully on 3 cliff faces on the
Mississippi, and Tordoff says in time, they should be able to take back all their old nesting places on the river.
Peregrines are also returning to cliff faces along the north Shore of Lake Superior.
In the eastern United States, the birds are starting to take back the cliffs along the Hudson and other lowland rivers where they used to nest.
“Here she goes, she’s flying, coming across the face. Maybe we’ll see the male. Nice updraft, look at her, she just goes up like an elevator.”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Losure.