The American Peregrine Falcon was once abundant throughout the United States, but widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused the bird’s population to decline rapidly. This led to a 1970 listing of “endangered” under the Endangered Species Conservation Act.
This installment of Species Spotlight examines the collaborative conservation actions and regulatory changes that led to the banning of DDT and the captive breeding of thousands of falcons. These efforts helped grow the Peregrine Falcon population to the point that the species was delisted in 1999.
The pesticide DDT thins the shells of Peregrine eggs, disrupting breeding cycles and decreasing bird populations. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the pesticide DDT for most uses in the U.S. This action was a critical first step of the Peregrine recovery, which was continued by a coalition of state, federal and private groups.
Conservation groups such as the Peregrine Fund and the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group pioneered large-scale captive breeding and release programs to increase populations. Between 1975 and 1995, more than 6,000 falcons were bred in captivity and released into the wild across the U.S.
These efforts were supported by the conservation actions of state and federal agencies throughout the country who worked to protect existing Peregrine aeries and created additional man-made nests on high cliffs, bridges, radio towers and skyscrapers.
American Peregrine Falcon populations have risen steadily from their low point in 1975 of 324 nesting pairs to the current levels of between 2,000 and 3,000 pairs in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico -- nearly a full recovery.
This growth led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Peregrine from the list of threatened and endangered species in August 1999. Ongoing population monitoring indicates that bird’s population continues to climb, making it one of the most dramatic species conservation successes in history.
The conservation actions that led to a delisting, including the innovation of captive breeding, have been applied to several other imperiled bird species, including the California Condor, American Kestrel, and Gyrfalcon.
Species Spotlight, a case study series examining the challenges and opportunities in species conservation, is part of the Western Governors' Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, the Chairman's Initiative of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.
More in the Species Spotlight series:
- Recovering the Oregon chub through conservation partnerships
- How collaborative conservation led to a 'Not Warranted' ESA determination for Arctic Grayling in Montana
- Ecosystem preservation essential to survival of California's El Segundo Blue Butterfly
- Collaborative conservation puts Columbian white-tailed deer on road to recovery
- Conservation Agreement keeps Graham’s and White River beardtongues off ESA threatened list
- Proactive Conservation Efforts Bring Channel Island Fox from Endangered to Recovered in Record Time