Last week we joined researchers as they checked in on our local Peregrine Falcons, hoping to tag any chicks they might find. In the end, it was a mixed result.
Peregrine Falcons are crazy hunters. Hitting speeds over 200 mph, they can snatch other birds right out of the air. At that speed, they can sometimes create a sound as if the air was ripping when they pass through it. It’s awesome!
Peregrines, like Bald Eagles and other birds of prey, were almost wiped out by the use of a toxic insecticide called DDT. By the early 1970’s there were no nesting pairs in the eastern side of the country. The birds were added to Wisconsin’s endangered species list in 1975. DDT was banned in 1972.
Restoring the population in Wisconsin hasn’t been easy for a variety of reasons. There never was a large population in the state as it was. In the 1950s, before DDT, there were about 24 nests, called eyries, in Wisconsin. Peregrines are particular about their nesting locations. The birds typically nest on ledges of rock cliffs 25 to 1,300 feet high and higher. Originally they nested along the bluffs of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Wisconsin rivers, and along the Door Peninsula*. During reintroduction efforts, scientists realized that Peregrines adapt well to tall buildings and here in Wisconsin that has helped their numbers begin to bounce back.
Today, with a bit of research, I could find somewhere around 20 nesting sites listed in Wisconsin, not including Devil’s Lake. The nest in Devil’s Lake was only discovered in 2014.
After we worked our way through a thick forest to get near the nesting location, one of the scientists had to rappel down to the nest. Immediately the adult birds spotted us, and let us know they were NOT pleased. The plan was to inspect the nest site and see if they had any young ones, then bring them up for a quick health check and measurement before tagging them and returning them back to their nest. At first, it all looked good. There were 4 healthy young falcons in the nest!! But, as the research got closer he realized that the chicks were older than expected. Very mobile, but not yet able to fly, the scared little birds could try to run away and fall or even jump from their high cliff. It wasn’t worth the risk!!! The team was happy to simply leave them be knowing that in just a matter of weeks 4 young, healthy peregrine falcons would soon be soaring over Devil’s Lake with their parents.