For more than three decades, SCPBRG and our associates have been privileged to witness, and to participate in, the remarkable resurgence of peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) in California and other parts of the West Coast. This striking recovery in our area and throughout most of the world is due in large measure to the ban on the use of DDT in many places. In the words of Tom Cade, who some would credit with the return of the peregrine to many parts of North America...
"We can thank this remarkable recovery of the Peregrine to the courage and determination of the first Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, who, against the ruling of his own hearing examiner and the intense lobbying of many pro-pesticide advocates, banned the use of DDT for nearly all purposes in 1972. This action, more than any other human intervention, made it possible for the surviving remnant populations in the wild to increase their numbers and reclaim vacated eyries throughout much of the former range. It also made possible the successful reintroduction of captive-produced falcons in southern Canada and the coterminous United States" (Cade et al., 1996)*.
The peregrine has recovered in North America to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the species entirely from the Endangered Species List on 20 August 1999.
This happy turn of events is a credit to the thousands of people who have participated in the peregrine’s recovery through time, sweat, creativity, donations, and perseverance. What started as a dream in the minds of a few who loved peregrine falcons when they were considered vermin by most, and who thought they would soon see the day when every rocky crag was devoid of the voice of the peregrine forever, has come to be an unlikely dream realized. Thousands of peregrines have been released in North America by various groups (see links), including SCPBRG. It is probably fair to say that virtually everyone who has participated in the return of the peregrine falcon in North America and throughout the world would agree that the peregrine has unwittingly, and often with protest, given back to them far more than they could ever have hoped to give to the peregrine.
As with most of the hubbub and hullabaloo that has surrounded the peregrine's decline and rise, the day the listing status of the peregrine falcon changed of course passed unnoticed by it's subject. We, on the other hand, joined almost 1,000 people at a celebration in Boise, Idaho.
In California today, peregrines are nesting on structures ranging from El Capitan in Yosemite to bridges no higher than 50ft. Of course the vast majority of nests are on more "normal" cliffs. In winter, especially in the Bay Area, the peregrine has become so common that some Audubon and bird group newsletters no longer bother to report them in their "birds of note" reports. This may not seem extraordinary until contrasted with the fact that 15-20 years ago, people would drive hundreds of miles with the hope of glimpsing a peregrine.
Eggshell thinning remains at most non-urban sites, and disturbance will always have the potential to affect individual nests. However, we at SCPBRG feel confident in the future of the peregrine falcon in the state, barring unforeseen circumstances. The peregrine is currently a state Endangered Species, and will also remain a Fully Protected Species in the State of California.
A remarkable book of the personal stories more than 50 participants in the recovery of peregrines, including a chapter on SCPBRG in California, is now available from The Peregrine Fund.
*Cade, T. J., J. H. Enderson and J. Linthicum, 1996. Guide to Management of Peregrine Falcons at the Eyrie. The Peregrine Fund.