Who Needs Cliffs?

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

pigeons and starlings make suitable prey. Skyscrapers offer perching and nesting sites resembling cliffs. If peregrine falcons ever are to become reestablished as breeders in natural habitat, it will probably be the result of birds pioneering outward from their newly established, urban populations.

Biologists "hack" peregrine falcons by placing three- to four week old birds that have been produced by captive pairs into enclosed boxes on buildings in suitable cities. By about six weeks of age, the young birds have grown their flight feathers and are set free. Because this is where they first flew, the birds imprint on the locale and will tend to use it for nesting when they mature.

The World Bird Sanctuary began restoring peregrine falcons to Missouri in St. Louis in 1985. The released birds established three successful nests. Following that organization's efforts, the Conservation Department began restoration work in 1991 in Kansas City. A total of 24 were hacked there and, in 1997, a resulting nest successfully fledged young from Commerce Bank Towers. The Conservation Department release prompted a similar effort at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield in 1997.

Peregrine falcons currently are nesting in major cities throughout the Midwest. Over 100 territorial pairs are fledging about 175 young every year. Biologists believe that about one third more falcons exist that are never reported, suggesting that there are possibly as many as 600 falcons in the Midwest.

Peregrines were removed from the endangered species list throughout the Arctic in 1994. There is currently a movement in the U.S. to delist falcons from their endangered status. The Midwest has exceeded recovery goals, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a formal proposal to remove them from the endangered list. We might see falcons reclassified by the turn of the century-a major accomplishment in our efforts to reverse the tide of past environmental abuses.

The Conservation Department is banking on a more complete return of peregrine falcons to our state. Because the falcons experience greater nesting success when they use man-made nest boxes, biologists are placing boxes on elevated sites, such as highrise buildings and smoke stacks. There are now more than 20 nest boxes throughout the state, including one on the Capitol dome in Jefferson City. We feel that peregrine falcons are certain to discover and occupy some of these sites and, as a result, more Missourians will have the opportunity to see this magnificent, thrilling bird.

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