The endangered peregrine falcon has come back.
The swift-flying birds of prey were nearly wiped out by 1970, when fewer than 50 pairs remained in the lower 48 states. Today, there are more than 1,200.
“There are probably as many as there ever were,” Jeff Cilek, vice president of the Peregrine Fund, says with wonder.
There are two reasons the birds have come back: The pesticide DDT has been banned, and the Boise-based Peregrine Fund has undertaken a huge breed-and-release effort that put thousands of young peregrine falcons back into the wild. Some of those were released in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Twenty-two were released at Lake Roosevelt near Spokane from 1993 to ‘95, and 16 survived. The fund plans another Lake Roosevelt release in 1996.
It also released five at Clark Fork, Idaho, this year. Three are still flying.
Now the non-profit Peregrine Fund is applying the lessons it’s learned with the peregrine to other species, including the endangered California condor.
Already, 20 California condors are living at the fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey just south of Boise. The giant birds strut and fly about in large pens, where their contact with people is strictly limited. Through a small, glass-covered hole high in the pen wall, two can be seen to squabble over a chicken carcass.
In 1996, the Peregrine Fund, in cooperation with state and federal agencies, will release condors at the Grand Canyon.
In 1982, there were only about 22 of the large birds left anywhere.
At the Boise center, condors are fed rabbits, salmon and chicken, Cilek said.
Peregrines at the center dine mostly on quail, which fly over the brushy hills around the center in large flocks and skitter on tiny legs along the center’s roads and grounds. The center raises thousands of quail each year to feed its raptors.
The Peregrine Fund started in 1970 at Cornell University. It expanded to include centers throughout the country and world, and in 1984 consolidated its operations at its Boise headquarters.
There, an interpretive center welcomes groups of schoolchildren and the curious, with information about rare and endangered birds of prey and songbirds, along with the fund’s efforts to help them recover.
Five biologists live at the center and monitor, feed and care for the captive birds year-round.
In the spring, activity steps up. Freshly laid eggs are nurtured in incubators (mothers are provided fake eggs). Tiny hatchlings are hand fed.
Peregrine falcons are released when they’re about 30 days old. Then they’re fed and monitored in the wild for another seven weeks.
The fund has an annual budget of $3.5 million, about half of that from the federal government and the other half from private sources, including foundations, corporations and individuals.
It’s working its way out of the business of dealing with the falcon that gave the fund its name. This past June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced its intent to take the peregrine off the Endangered Species list. That process will take time, and Cilek said he expects the group to continue to monitor and deal with the peregrine for some years.
But, he said, “We’re pleased - it took 25 years.”
Other projects are under way. The fund has helped double the population of the threatened Alala, or Hawaiian crow. It helped restore the Mauritius Kestrel from only two known pairs; now there are more than 300 of the birds. It’s working to save three endangered raptor species in Madagascar. And there’s more.
Said Cilek, “We have enough work to keep us very busy.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE INTERNET The Peregrine Fund’s Home Page on the World Wide Web offers information about rare songbirds and birds of prey, and the fund’s projects all over the world to conserve them. The Home Page includes “Notes from the Field,” where the fund’s biologists and researchers send in the latest on their projects in such far-off places as Madagascar and Greenland. To find the page on the World Wide Web, search for “Peregrine Fund” or go to: http://www.peregrinefund.org
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